Artist Nelson Shanks, the man responsible for the portrait of President Bill Clinton that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, has revealed the painting’s biggest secret.
According to Shanks, the portrait contains a reference to Monica Lewinsky, the infamous intern whose sexual relationship with Clinton often overshadowed what many see as an incredibly successful presidency.
The portrait of Clinton made huge waves during its 2006 debut, stirring controversy when it was noted that Clinton, in the portrait, was not wearing a wedding band. But now, it seems as though the biggest reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the portrait has been hidden in the shadows all along — literally.
In the portrait, Clinton stands with confidence, hand on his hip and an expression that can be seen as either smug or simply satisfied, near a fireplace mantel in the Oval Office. And it is in the shadows that play along the mantle that Shanks added his reference to Lewinsky.
“If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.”
Shanks claims that President Clinton was “terrified” to be painted by him, and that the Clintons “hate” the portrait he produced of Bill Clinton. In an interview with Philadelphia Daily News, Shanks stated, “And so the Clintons hate the portrait. They want it removed from the National Portrait Gallery. They’re putting a lot of pressure on them.”
When the National Portrait Gallery was asked about that, however, a spokeswoman denied that the Clintons had contacted them in order to get the portrait removed.
Shanks has painted the portraits of many famous people, including Princess Diana and Pope John Paul II. But, according to Shanks, it was difficult to paint Clinton.
“Clinton was hard. I’ll tell you why. The reality is he’s probably the most famous liar of all time. He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.”
After seeing that, a little shadow referencing a dress seems pretty tame.
[Images via the Philadelphia Daily]