Before it landed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, a certain portrait of John F. Kennedy with his stoic stare hung over President Biden’s fireplace for the eight years he was vice president. After a four-year stay in Boston, the Kennedy portrait was sent back to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago. This time it hangs in a private study off the Oval Office.
According to the MFA, the painting was lent following a personal request from President Biden. “We’re pleased that we can help support the new president,” said Ethan Lasser, the MFA’s Art of the Americas chair, “and that he values works of art.” (As of press time, a White House spokesperson was checking whether the president wanted to comment.)
“Portrait of John F. Kennedy” was completed in 1967 by Jamie Wyeth — he’s the grandson of painter N.C. Wyeth and son of the famous “Christina’s World” realist Andrew Wyeth. Jamie was just 20 years old when Jackie and Robert Kennedy approached with the request for a posthumous portrait.
“There’s nothing more challenging for a painter than a posthumous portrait,” Lasser said by phone this week. “When I think about that process, which is pretty unique, it reminds me of some of the ways American artists tried to re-create battles or re-create major national events out of Boston.”
The MFA officially acquired the painting for its Jamie Wyeth exhibition in 2014; some eagle-eyed locals might remember it hanging for a time in the Rotunda (though the painting has been in storage as of late).
This isn’t the MFA’s first loan to the White House. President George H.W. Bush borrowed a painting portraying summer in New Brunswick, while Kennedy himself borrowed six outdoor-themed watercolors. And while it’s hard to know why the presidents were so taken by the art they chose, Lasser has a theory for Biden’s pick.
“I hope that he finds in it wisdom and calm and inspiration because I think in many ways it’s a portrait of steadiness and a portrait of listening,” said Lasser. “And those are all values I think this new administration is embracing.”
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at email@example.com.