Lines and Colors art blog

Sargent’s portrait of Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent
Theodore Roosevelt by John Singer Sargent

Today is “Presidents Day” here in the U.S. — originally “Washington’s Birthday”, but now an all-purpose Washington and Lincoln birthday holiday, marked primarily by aggressively advertised sales of mattresses and cars. (Maybe that says something about U.S. presidents, I don’t know.)

Though perhaps not one of Sargent’s most memorable paintings, this portrait of the 26th U.S. president certainly counts as one of the best official presidential portraits. For a full array of official portraits, see this slide show feature on

There is fairly large image of this painting on Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve covered U.S. presidential portraits before here on Lines and Colors, including those by Gilbert Stuart (and here), Charles Wilson Peale and George Healy.

Theodore Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, Wikimedia Commons


5 responses to “Sargent’s portrait of Roosevelt”

  1. I have never seen this Sargent. Yes, it is not one of Sargent’s most memorable portraits. For a Sargent I find it uncharacteristically stiff.
    His hand on the finial seems to command too much attention too.

    I’ll have to look at the other ‘Official’ presidential portraits to see where it ranks in that context. I suppose thats means it was officially commissioned by Roosevelt or the White House.
    I would be interested to know the story behind it since we don’t ever really hear of this painting when hearing of Sargent’s work’s.

    Was it not well received at the time?

  2. Spotted this Sargent on the wall of Kevin Spacey’s character’s office in the pilot of House of Cards (only one I’ve seen). I’ve always loved the almost invisible delicacy of the eyeglass frames…

  3. “Together they toured the White House while Sargent looked for proper light and a good pose. As Roosevelt led the way upstairs, so the story goes, he said, ‘The trouble with you Sargent, is that you don’t know what you want.’ ‘No,’ replied the artist, “the trouble, Mr. President, is that you don’t know what a pose means.’ Roosevelt turned sharply back, grasped the newel-post and snapped, ‘Don’t I!’
    ‘Don’t move an inch. You’ve got it now,’ responded Sargent. . . . .
    “Sargent formalized the pose as an official portrait demands, but the highly colored face and hand bring the painting to vivid life. . . . The expression–a near scowl with narrowed eyes focused on the view–and the vigorously modeled head compel attention and respect.”
    Notes from Kloss, William, et al. Art in the White House: a nation’s pride. Washington D.C.
    The first American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

  4. Don’t mention it, Charley. It’s my pleasure.