White House Art

by Former Curator, Rex Scouten

Pride of the American Nation, the White House collection of fine arts, owes its existence to the scores of individuals and organizations that have nurtured and supported it. They have been diverse in outlook, taste and purpose, but their vision and generosity have given coherence to the collection as a whole.

All the Presidents and First Ladies, including even the Washingtons, though they never occupied the Executive Mansion, have in one way or another made significant contributions. Portrait of President George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart's idealized portrait of the first President (at right), cornerstone of the collection, both inspires us and evokes calm assurance of national community.

First Ladies of recent decades deserve great credit for much of the art featured in this collection on-line. Jacqueline Kennedy set the goal of collecting works by the country's finest artists. Lady Bird Johnson enthusiastically continued that pursuit. Patricia Nixon's efforts added 18 portraits to Presidents and First Ladies.

Elizabeth Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton also have taken a special interest in the history of the mansion. Mrs. Clinton initiated eight exhibitions of twentieth century American sculpture during her term. Each recent First Lady has worked tirelessly to encourage contributions of funds and gifts of art.

They, and the collection itself, have been immeasurably helped by former curators of the White House--Lorraine Pearce, William Elder, James Ketchum, and Clement Conger--and by the present curator, Betty Monkman, and other members of the curatorial staff. From the care of the White House paintings to the authentication of new acquisitions, these experts have implemented professional standards worthy of the best museums.

Exceptional contributions of time, knowledge, and personal resources on the collection's behalf have come from three men: the late James W. Fosburgh, an original member of Mrs. Kennedy's Fine Arts Committee for the White House; Robert L McNeill, Jr., a longtime member of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House; and the late Dr. Melvin Payne, Chairman of the Board of the National Geographic Society, which cooperated with the White House Historical Association in the publication of the book upon which this on-line collection is based and other books about the presidential residence. The Association, chartered in 1961, has been a major benefactor, making possible the acquisition of dozens of works of art. Today it continues to "enhance understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of the Executive Mansion."

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