The artist who painted former President Bill Clinton secretly added a shadow of a blue dress in his 2006 portrait. The dress is clearly a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Artist Nelson Shanks said the 42nd president is “probably the most famous liar of all time.”
This is certainly shocking and on some level disrespectful, but it’s not uncommon for artists to comment on presidential foibles and peccadillos within their portraits.
It was well-known that President Buchanan loved pizza. What he didn’t love was sharing. Which is why he was always ordering pizza to the White House, just for himself, much to the consternation of his hungry staff. “When we grow the size of the economic pie, gentlemen, then you may partake of this delicious Italian pie,” he famously quipped.
Nobody liked President Buchanan.
JACKSON’S BALD EAGLE
Andrew Jackson, famous today for forcibly removing Native Americans from their ancestral lands yet still being on the $20 bill, is commemorated ever-so-subtly as he is about to be eaten by a bald eagle, placed there on behalf of Native Americans as well as anyone with a heart.
PIERCE’S WHISK BROOM
Notorious slob Franklin Pierce lost the nation’s only copy of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a folly that led to unnecessary bloodshed and longer history books for future schoolchildren. Here the artist has deftly placed a small whisk-broom beneath his messy table.
TRUMAN’S MUSHROOM CLOUD
You can see it faintly, behind Truman, the mushroom cloud that was symbolic of the president’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After using atom bombs to force Japan to surrender and end WWII, Truman advocated for the use of nuclear weapons to solve all of his administration’s problems, including during a famous row with Senate Minority Leader Wallace White of Maine over a late-night game of cards.
TAFT’S THOUGHT BUBBLE
Historians agree that President Taft spent most of his administration thinking about a giant ham instead of tending to the nation’s pressing needs. Here the official portrait artist has almost-imperceptably added a thought bubble of a contemporary ham. Taft approved of the portrait. “My countenance, it glazes with salty wonder,” he declared while eyeing an actual ham.
Joe Donatelli is senior editor of Playboy.com. Twitter: @joedonatelli Email: firstname.lastname@example.org