Forty-four Presidential portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., each unique, reflecting stylistic and political preferences and concerns as visual art codes and signals points of view of society at the time it is produced. Recent events in our nation’s capital have drawn attention to recognizing the artist’s role as documentarian and interpreters of society’s views and preferences.
Where a camera is aimed and what a videocam records is dependent on the stance of an artist and their courage to be in a place and time. That has been proven in the videos of the Capitol riots that numerous people have seen on TV and computer screens. Painters and sculptors observe the same requirements and parameters in creating their work. The stance and mind of a sculptor or painter, and the artist’s view of the President, was responsible for the artist’s unique vision and consequent depiction. In 1832, long before the present age of video recording, and even before the advent of photography, Horatio Greenough, commissioned by the United States Congress sculpted America’s first President, George Washington, of Carrera marble. Inspired by the Greek Republic, where democracy, government by the demos, or the people, was born, Greenough dressed President Washington, seated, in a chest-baring toga. It was installed in the Capitol Rotunda after completion, marking the centennial of Washington’s birthday.