Portrait of First Lady Barbara Bush

Portrait of First Lady Barbara Bush

“I had a year to prepare” Candace Lovely says of her historic role in creating the official White House portrait of First Lady Barbara Bush. Perhaps the artist’s most formal contribution to the world of collectable art, it’s backed by one of the dearest stories wherein Lovely initiated contact, reaching out to the First Lady in the hopes of creating portraiture for the famed and locally histories Bush family.

By the 1990s, Candace Lovely had already become well-established as a renounced and celebrated artist, both nationally and in and around New England where Lovely was trained and known (dubbed “the grand dame of Boston painters”) and where the Bush family has deep and longstanding roots centered around their Walker’s Point property in Kennebunkport Maine.

The initiation of this painting began with a personal letter penned to Mrs. Bush from the artist herself, expressing interest in painting the Bush family grandchildren in portraiture. A camaraderie was struck between Lovely and the then current First Lady that would soon result in her being contacted for the prestigious task of commissioning the official White House portrait.

The call came in 1990 and Lovely had a year before the 1991 commission would eventually take place. Originally, Mrs. Bush’s interest was in being painted in the Children’s Garden, illustrating her love for children. As together they further developed the symbolism that would be included in the final work, they arrived at the very personal, intentional list of visuals you see in the final piece.

For location, they landed in the First Lady’s Garden near the East Wing, which also positioned them for a soft east light. A book was selected to depict the Literacy Program that had been launched by Mrs. Bush earlier that year. Her dog Millie was included both for the dog herself (a constant personal companion to Mrs. Bush, celebrating a “woman’s best friend” relationship that was well known in the media), and to represent “Millie’s Book,” one of two books Bush quipped she “ghostwrote” for her dog while in residence. The book’s subtitle reads adorably, “As Dictated to Barbara Bush,” from the perspective of a dog in the White House. Not to be overlooked are her trademark pearls which need no introduction or explanation. Still one last intriguing piece of artistic trivia remains in the absolute center and foreground of this famous painting – recognizable to anyone familiar with the artist’s body of work — Candace Lovely’s hat, complete with a soft and flowing “puffed” pink bow.

In one of those memorable closing moments for which any artist hopes when working with such a noteworthy subject and historic project, Lovely recalls a conversation about the two of them having sat for portrait outside in the gardens in the height of the afternoon. Discussing differences in skin tones (orange versus pink) and preparing to bid one another farewell, Lovely quipped in perfect pun and final compliment to the First Lady:

“You’re Lovely; I’m Bushed.”


Stay Up-to-Date

Join my mailing list to stay informed on new painting releases and gallery locations near you.