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Every US president's and first lady's official portraits

  • Every U.S. president's and first lady's official portraits

    Every U.S. president has their likeness immortalized on the walls of the White House. While a picture is worth a thousand words, the stories behind some of their official portraits tell the story of America.

    From George Washington to Donald Trump, Stacker compiled a list of every U.S. president’s official portrait, as well as those of first ladies and hostesses, using information from the White House Historical Association and independent research.

    The artists that were commissioned ranged from close personal friends to world-renowned artists. Though some paintings that were considered head and shoulders above the rest, like Herbert Abrams’s depiction of Jimmy Carter, not every official portrait session went so smoothly. Presidents Gerald Ford and Theodore Roosevelt both rejected first attempts at their official portraits, while in 1967, President Lyndon Johnson called artist Peter Hurd’s first portrayal of him “the ugliest thing I ever saw.” Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff would craft Johnson’s official portrait a year later.

    Johnson was Shoumatoff’s second attempt at a presidential portrait, with her first attempt two decades earlier representing a pivotal moment in American history. While sitting for Shoumatoff at the “Little White House” in Georgia on April 12, 1945, the country’s only four-term president died after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Frank Salisbury later painted the official portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, while Shoumatoff left her version unfinished.

    Along with each slide, information about the portrait, the artist, as well as its personal and public reception are noted. The presidents, first ladies, and hostesses are listed in chronological order. Hostesses are included on this list because a family member of the president (a sister, daughter, sister-in-law, etc.) sometimes played a bigger role in the presidency than a spouse did.

    Read on to discover every U.S. president and first lady’s official portrait, from Presidents Washington to Trump and First Ladies Martha to Melania.

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  • President: George Washington

    - Years active: 1789–1797

    President George Washington’s 8-foot portrait, painted by Gilbert Stuart, hangs not just on the White House walls, but is also one of the most reproduced images of all time. A bust-length representation has graced the face of $1 bill since 1869, reports the History Channel. The iconic first presidential portrait almost burned in flames during the War of 1812, but was saved by then-First Lady Dolley Madison, who risked her life to rescue the painting.

  • First Lady: Martha Washington

    - Years active: 1789–1797

    First Lady Martha Dandridge Custis Washington’s portrait, aglow in white and maroon, depicts the first president’s love standing stoically aside an oval-backed chair. However, George was not her first husband; she married him after being widowed by wealthy planter Daniel Parke Custis. It was her esteemed social status that helped her husband George win the presidency, making the couple the inaugural pacesetters for the new republic's leaders.

  • President: John Adams

    - Years active: 1797–1801

    The portrait of second U.S. President John Adams, one of America’s Founding Fathers, was duplicated from an original depiction of him when he was vice president under President George Washington in 1792–93. Painted in oil by John Trumbull on a 30 ⅙ x 24-inch canvas, the portrait exudes the seriousness of the Harvard graduate, one-term president, and American Revolution leader. President Adams and his First Lady Abigail were the first couple to reside in the White House after its construction in 1800.

     

  • First Lady: Abigail Adams

    - Years active: 1797–1801

    First Lady Abigail Adams was no stranger to the executive branch, as the wife to President John Adams when he was vice president to President George Washington. Her friendship with then First Lady Martha Washington gave her confidence and social standing, enabling her to christen the White House with décor and entertainment as the first lady to reside there. Known for her bold opinion, the first lady is remembered as the strong woman behind the great man.

  • President: Thomas Jefferson

    - Years active: 1801–1809

    Rembrandt Peale painted President Thomas Jefferson’s portrait on a 23 ⅛ x 19 ¼-inch oil canvas a year before Jefferson led the country in 1800. The famed artist sat President Jefferson down again, painting him a second time in the White House when he completed his first term in 1805. The Whitehouse Historical Association reports that since President Jefferson accomplished a landslide reelection, he felt more relaxed in sitting, posing “for this formal portrait in a somewhat unconventional manner with his hair not dressed and covering his red coat with a large, fur-lined cape.”

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  • First Lady: Martha Jefferson

    - Years active: 1801–1809

    First Lady Martha Jefferson never enjoyed the glory and honor of her title, dying due to frequent pregnancies and miscarriage almost 20 years before President Thomas Jefferson assumed office in 1801. Out of her seven pregnancies, only two daughters survived past early adolescence. Their daughter Martha, called Patsy, would stand in for her mother as the lady of the White House from 1802–03 and once more from 1805–06.

  • President: James Madison

    - Years active: 1809–1817

    Two-term President James Madison had his official portrait completed a year before exiting the White House in 1816. The simple and stern bust-length depiction, painted in oil by John Vanderlyn on a 26 x 22 (3/16)-inch canvas, was commissioned by then friend and future president James Monroe. President Madison served during the War of 1812, which prompted the 1814 British attack on the White House, which became engulfed in flames.

  • First Lady: Dolley Madison

    - Years active: 1809–1817

    First Lady Dolley Madison knew what it was like to run the White House before officially living in it, assisting President Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, who was the hostess since he served as a widowed leader. Portraits of the first lady often showed her lower-cut dresses that she was known for sporting along with other elaborate clothing. When the British attacked the White House during the War of 1812, First Lady Dolley Madison risked her life to save President George Washington’s portrait.

  • President: James Monroe

    - Years active: 1817–1825

    Unlike some early leaders, President James Monroe sat for his official White House portrait, which was painted by the inventor of the telegraph Samuel F.B. Morse, during his administration in 1819. The 29 ⅝ x 24 ⅝-inch oil on canvas reveals the right side of the leader’s face and less of the left. President James Monroe sat for other paintings by famed portraitists Gilbert Stuart, who painted President George Washington, and Rembrandt Peale, who composed President Thomas Jefferson.

  • First Lady: Elizabeth Monroe

    - Years active: 1817–1825

    First Lady Elizabeth Monroe began to break away from tradition by not associating closely with other diplomat wives due to her ill health and her private European-style entertaining. Her desire to stay distant caused strife between President James Monroe and some elected officials; however, First Lady Elizabeth was not swayed by his peers or the press, staying true to her aloofness.

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