Art for the President's House--An Historical Perspective
Zachary Taylor's daughter gave a portrait of her father. A descendant
of Martin Van Buren's bequeathed a marble bust of him, as well as an
elegant oil portrait of his
daughter-in-law and hostess, Angelica Singleton Van Buren (at right).
These gifts from presidential families, however, account for only a small number of works acquired over the years. More recently the growth of the fine arts collection has depended heavily on the generosity of the American public, and today the Executive Mansion houses nearly 450 examples of painting and sculpture.
A number of works by important artists--Jasper Cropsey, William Glackens,
and Maurice Prendergast among them--have been given by their descendants.
Other individuals too have become participants in the national collecting
enterprise, securing works of art for the "house owned by all the
American people." One donor, upon learning that the Executive Mansion
wanted to acquire a particular view of the Rocky Mountains by Albert
Bierstadt, purchased it, placed it on loan, and eventually gave it to the
collection. When a newspaper reported that the White House had been the
unsuccessful bidder for a genre scene by George Caleb Bingham, a
citizen of the artist's home state, Missouri, offered a contribution. He
donated a share in the river scene by Bingham that he owned, and funds
from a second donor completed the purchase. Aware of
President Jimmy Carter's admiration of William M. Harnett's
Cincinnati Enquirer (at left, below), on loan to the White House,
a donor bought it for the collection.
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore