Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush were back in Washington on Thursday for the unveiling of the portraits of the former first couple that will hang at the White House.
They were joined by President Obama and the former chief executive’s parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush.
The paintings were done by portrait artist John Howard Sanden. The works were commissioned by the White House Historical Assn., a nonprofit group, and they will become part of the permanent collection of the White House.
Thursday’s ceremony was a bipartisan event in which Democrats and Republicans briefly put down their swords and praised each others’ service to the country. Also in attendance were First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the honorees’ daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
Originally from Texas, Sanden is a portrait artist who has painted numerous public figures. He began his career painting mostly Christian themes and has been professionally associated with the Rev. Billy Graham. In 1974, he founded the Portrait Institute and five years later, the National Portrait Seminar.
President Obama spoke at the ceremony, praising his predecessor for his fortitude during the9/11attacks and for making the transition of power in 2008 a smooth one. Obama described the White House as “a working office, a living museum and an enduring symbol of our democracy.”
Bush addressed the White House audience with his trademark informality. “I am pleased my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection, he said. “It now starts and ends with a George W.”
Bush said he asked Sanden to include a painting within the painting: “A Charge to Keep,” by artist W.H.D. Koerner, hung in the White House during his administration. The historical painting depicts a frontier scene, with men on horseback riding through treacherous terrain.
The former president said the Koerner painting reminded him of all the people he served with during his two terms in office.
Thursday’s ceremony was part of a presidential tradition in which the sitting commander in chief hosts a portrait unveiling for his immediate predecessor. In 2004, Bush hosted Bill and Hillary Clinton for the unveiling of their White House portraits.
The paintings of the Clintons were created by artist Simmie Knox.