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George W. Bush Has Spent His Retirement Painting Portraits of World Leaders

George W. Bush Has Spent His Retirement Painting Portraits of World Leaders

When he first began painting, former President George W. Bush’s art instructor asked him what his goal was. “Well, there’s a Rembrandt trapped in this body,” he recalls telling his instructor. “Your job to unleash him.”

On Friday, the former president unveiled the product of his post-White House pastime. In a segment on NBC’s Today show — hosted by none other than his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager — Bush recounted his conversation with the instructor and showed off a collection of portraits depicting world leaders with whom he worked during his time in the Oval Office. That collection will open to the public on Saturday in an exhibition at Bush’s presidential library in Dallas.

Bush picked up painting more seriously after the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis suggested he read Winston Churchill’s essay “Painting as a Pastime,” but he first began sketching on his iPad, sending images to his family members. His portraits of world leaders are painted as Bush knew them. Russian President Vladimir Putin glowers from his frame; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair receives a decidedly friendlier treatment. 

Here is a selection of Bush’s work, as presented on the Today show. 

Putin, angry, resentful, and power-hungry.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in traditional dress and looking a bit worried.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in gregarious form.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, decidedly steely.

Blair gets an affectionate treatment.

So does Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

A loving rendering of George H.W. Bush.

One of the president’s early forays into painting, a family cat. 

Texas landscapes.

An example of Bush’s early iPad sketches.