MFA lends JFK painting to President Biden: ‘It’s a portrait of steadiness and a portrait of listening’
Before the Boston Museum of Fine Arts acquired it, a particular portrait of John F. Kennedy hung over President Biden’s chimney with his stoic eye for the eight years he was Vice President. After a four-year stay in Boston, the Kennedy portrait was sent back to Washington DC a few weeks ago. This time it is hanging in a private study in front of the Oval Office.
According to the MFA, the painting was loaned by President Biden at a personal request. “We are excited to support the new president,” said Ethan Lasser, chairman of the MFA for Art of the Americas, “and that he values works of art.” (At press time, a White House spokesman was checking to see if the president wanted to comment.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“Portrait of John F. Kennedy” was completed in 1967 by Jamie Wyeth – he is the grandson of the painter NC Wyeth and son of the famous “Christina’s World” realist Andrew Wyeth. Jamie was only 20 years old when Jackie and Robert Kennedy approached each other with a request for a posthumous portrait.
“There’s nothing more difficult for a painter than a posthumous portrait,” Lasser said on the phone this week. “When I think about this process, which is quite unique, it reminds me of the way American artists have tried to recreate battles or major national events outside of Boston.”
The MFA officially acquired the painting in 2014 for its Jamie Wyeth exhibition. Some eagle-eyed locals may remember it hanging in the rotunda for a while (although the painting has recently been put into storage).
This is not the MFA’s first loan to the White House. President George HW Bush borrowed a painting depicting New Brunswick’s summer, while Kennedy himself borrowed six watercolors of outdoor subjects. And while it’s hard to know why the presidents were so fond of the art they elected, Lasser has a theory for Biden’s choice.
“I hope he finds wisdom, serenity and inspiration in it because I think that in many ways it is a portrait of persistence and a portrait of listening,” said Lasser. “And these are all values that I think this new government will embrace.”
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at [email protected]