‘Political’ Portrait

Each type of society is based on specific values that can be read from pictures constituting a cultural heritage of different periods. A person perceives the world through images because the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Today, the image of a confident, educated, and even elegant leader is popular. It also applies to the First Ladies and everyone who were or are in power.
Change in the values of American society could be easily traced from portraits of U.S. Presidents. But it is even more interesting to study the images of the First Ladies, who sometimes claimed to have brought their husbands to the White House. The community is often dissatisfied with the First Ladies. To whom should these women be grateful for the fact that the fate has led them to fame, money, and power even without elections, if not to themselves? Are they different or similar? What is their secret? The family of a newly elected U.S. President moves into the White House, and the First Lady becomes the female head of the house, in which all the most important things in the country take place. At the same time, there is no law to regulate the duties of the President’s wife. The First Lady may be on stage, and the question is how skillfully she will play her part.

Martha Washington received the status of America’s First Lady when Marie
Antoinette reigned in France and Catherine II was in power in Russia. And if you compare the portraits of these three women, the difference is incredible. The portraitures of Catherine II and Marie Antoinette are ceremonial, with many allegories, symbols of state power, chic and stately pride. America’s Martha Washington is a simple, gentlewoman in a beret, without jewelry or arrogance, without signs of statism and political motives. She is a loving wife, a tender mother, a loyal friend, and a guardian of the hearth.

Americans’ values changed approximately every 50 years. Accordingly, the types of the First Ladies underwent a transformation. During and after the Civil War, women’s outfits became even more modest. The wives of the presidents resembled strict teachers, burdened with power, with scarce emotions. An exception was the portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, an elegant woman in flowers and a wreath. Closer to the 20th century, the First Ladies of the United States looked like self-sufficient, progressive-minded ladies. They often had their views on many political subjects. Since the thirties of the 20th century, the firmament of the First Ladies shone with such bright personalities that now it is difficult to imagine the history of America without Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan, and Barbara Bush. Already at the sound of the names, the images of these unique women emerge on their own.

Eleanor Roosevelt had been involved in politics for 17 years after the death of her husband. Possessing a powerful, masculine character and oratory skills, she had campaigned for her disabled husband and brought him to presidency. The portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt with a pen depicts a writer and an energetic leader. She wore trousers to a White House function and is said to have mistresses.

Jacqueline Kennedy is a legend. It is safe to say that she revolutionized the way the First Ladies lived and worked. Her portrait is the most sensual and poignant. With the power of charm, elegance, and charisma, she surpasses all those before and after her. Around the world, people remember Jacqueline Kennedy for her contributions to art and the preservation of historic architecture. There is an opinion that John F. Kennedy went down so loudly in history because of his tragic death and wife’s popularity. Jacqueline Kennedy’s influence – pearls, hairstyle, a frank look in the eyes – is noticeable in the images of the next First Ladies.

And only Hillary Clinton had made the change happen. With her profile portrait, she had repeated the image of Alexander the Great. Hillary chose to be decisive, strong-willed, unyielding, like a valid ruler. It was a politically motivated move.

Michelle Obama had made trends explode not only with her skin color, looking like a model and wearing modern outfits. In the official portrait, she is gorgeous, sexy, and a little sad.

Melania Trump had remained an unsolved person. She is beautiful and extraordinarily elegant, no doubt about it. But it’s hard to say what hides behind a smiling mask on duty – the people failed to solve the riddle.

Maybe that’s why her successor, Jill Biden, on the contrary, is sincere and passionate. The portrait of the incumbent First Lady has not yet been painted, but she will not be a ‘dark horse‘ arena for a long time. Jill Biden has already distinguished herself by choosing not to leave her teaching job after her husband had been elected to the presidency of the United States. It is the first time in history. America’s First Lady is an extraordinary person, and to many, an image of the President’s wife seems to be stronger than the image of her husband. Perhaps a new political star is being born before our eyes. Time will show. And I have decided… to paint her portrait!

Author: Olga Adam Alrubayee Artist

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