Winter Holidays

By Benjamin Shapell, Sara Willen | December 1, 2014

December 1, 2014
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Portraitist-in-Chief George W. Bush. In 2013, the former president was hacked, exposing family correspondence and images.

Certain familiar names are back in the news, and being compared again, favorably, to Winston Churchill. George W. Bush, the ex-President, has embarked on a career as a painter – though here, too, he seems a late starter, not having begun to paint until 2012. Another presidential painter, Ulysses S. Grant, started early, while a student at West Point; Eisenhower, when Chief of the Army during World War II, to calm down; and Carter, along with wood-working and wine-making, as a post-presidential hobby. Jack Kennedy, too, lifted brush to paper – a story told here, Between the Lines…

The Kennedys of Hyannis Port, and Palm Beach, and Washington, were a famously competitive lot, and their chief form of relaxation, exertion. If it involved internecine rivalry, so much the better – but aside from reading a book, or writing one, solitary pursuits were generally shunned. When young bride Jacqueline Kennedy bought her husband a paint set, then, for Christmas ’53, all the Kennedys descended on it, competing to see who could produce the most paintings in the shortest amount of time. Jacqueline was appalled: her idea had been to allow Jack to emulate his great hero, Winston Churchill, who found in painting a serene distraction from political pressure. Somehow, however, despite the initial disaster at Palm Beach, Kennedy took up painting, by himself, that spring, and when, a year later, he was recovering from back surgery, he painted even more. (His mother Rose, in whose Palm Beach home he was recuperating, complained about the paint splattered all over the sheets.) Kennedy painted mostly seascapes – though this painting is of the Kennedy’s Palm Beach house itself.

That waterfront compound, of course, was not only where Jack Kennedy went to paint – but where he wrote Profiles in Courage, and his Inaugural Address; put together his cabinet, met the press, and as President, plotted politics and planned policy. It was there, too, that he spent the final weekend of his life. The weather in Washington DC was in the 50s, when he left on Friday, November 15th, for Palm Beach – going, for the last time, into the warm sun of his winter home.

Dot Tubridy, to whom this painting is inscribed, was the young Irish widow of a riding champion befriended by the Kennedys, and spent some time visiting them in Palm Beach. She became, it was said, like an Irish cousin to the family – and when President Kennedy traveled to Ireland in 1963, she was with his party every step of the way.

JOHN F. KENNEDY. 1917 – 1963. The 35th President of the United States.

Original Watercolor, untitled, signed (twice) “Jack, and inscribed (also twice) to Dot (Tubridy); oblong quarto, on paper, no date. Being a view of the back of the Kennedy family Palm Beach home, fronting the water.