George W. Bush’s Portraits & More Leaders (and Dictators) with Artistic Talent

George W. Bush’s portraits and more paintings by world leaders (and dictators).

George W. Bush isn’t the only world leader with artistic talent. See paintings and drawings by Churchill, Reagan, Hitler, Mandela, and more.

George W. Bush

The recently leaked paintings by George W. Bush revealed the former president’s previously unknown artistic side. And art critics were reasonably impressed. As New York magazine’s Jerry Saltz wrote: “I love these two bather paintings. They are ‘simple’ and ‘awkward,’ but in wonderful, unself-conscious, intense ways ... Paint, George, paint. Paint more. Please. If you exhibit it, I’ll write about it.”


Winston Churchill

“When I get to heaven, I intend to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting,” Winston Churchill told Life magazine in 1946, “and so get to the bottom of the subject.” According to historian Andrew Roberts, time at his easel helped the British prime minister escape depression. “Painting was something that he discovered at the time of the Dardanelles disaster [also known as the Battle of Gallipoli] when he was at his lowest ebb,” Roberts noted. “It gave him solace.” While Churchill gave away most of his paintings—including one to actress Vivien Leigh—they sell well at auction. Last year, the MacConnal-Mason gallery put Still Life With Orchids up for sale with an asking price of £750,000.


Dwight Eisenhower

Although he did not take up painting until he was 58 years old, Dwight Eisenhower completed more than 250 works of art. He was partial to landscapes and pastoral scenes, but Ike never deluded himself when it came to assessing his talent. In 1967, while giving Washington Post reporter Richard Cohen a tour of his work at an exhibition, Eisenhower cracked, “Let’s get something straight here, Cohen. They would have burned this [expletive] a long time ago if I weren’t the president of the United States.”

Michael Evans/AP/The White House

Ronald Reagan

For more than 200 years, presidents have doodled during cabinet meetings, and their best work was even collected in a 2007 book. Last year a drawing that Ronald Reagan produced during the 1981 G7 summit meetings was released to the public by an unlikely collector—Margaret Thatcher. “She told me it was fascinating to see it, and she just grabbed them,” Chris Collins of the Margaret Thatcher Foundation told the Associated Press. “He just left it on his desk. She snaffled it up, put it in her papers, brought it back to Downing Street and kept it in her flat.”

Auktionshaus Weidle/AP

Adolf Hitler

Among the defining moments in Adolf Hitler’s early life was getting rejected from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1907 and 1908. But Hitler still didn’t give up his dream of becoming an artist. In the next few years he created hundreds of paintings, sketches, and postcards, although he was not terribly successful. Today, of course, Hitler’s art frequently fetches hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. In 2010 the original sketches Hitler submitted to art school were put up for sale by the British auction house Mullock’s, but as one art curator sniffed: “These prices are clearly much too high when considered just in terms of the works’ artistic value. I would guess that—for whatever reasons—the buyers are less interested in art and more interested in pieces that recall Hitler."

Ross Calder/AP

Nelson Mandela

At age 83, Nelson Mandela created a series of prints and lithographs for charity. The drawings, based on the 18 years he spent in prison on Robben Island, sold well at auction and were also purchased by several famous collectors, including Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and David Beckham. Several years ago, however, Mandela condemned London’s Belgravia Gallery for selling what he believed were works with fake signatures, but an art expert deemed the art to be real, and they remain up for sale.

Jim McKnight/AP

Ulysses S. Grant

Like all cadets at West Point, Ulysses Grant was made to take art classes in case he was ever called upon to draw a battle plan. Although not a particularly good student, Grant excelled at painting and studied under Robert Walter Weir (who also taught James Whistler). The future 18th president of the United States gave one of his cadet paintings to his girlfriend at the time, Kate Lowe, and several others survive in private collections and museums.

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty

Queen Victoria

The British royal family has been battling with journalists over privacy for more than 150 years. In 1849 Queen Victoria was granted an injunction against publication when more than 60 intimate sketches she had made of her children were leaked to a scandalous publication. The injunction lasted most of Victoria’s lifetime, at which point the drawings were added to the Royal Collection. But last year a private collector put six of her small sketches up for auction, and they sold for £6,600, more than four times the pre-auction estimate. “The sketches are very casual, and the figures are not posed,” an auctioneer said of the royal art. “It offers an insight into their lives. The public wouldn’t have known what they looked like behind the scenes.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG

Thomas Jefferson

An accomplished musician, author, botanist, and inventor, Thomas Jefferson was also a talented neoclassical architect, having designed his home in Monticello and the University of Virginia. Indeed, many books and exhibitions have been devoted to his drawings. “Architecture is my delight,” the third president once said, “and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.”

Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty

Joseph Stalin

Although not technically an artist, Joseph Stalin was the subject of a controversial 2009 exhibition in Moscow. Messages From the Great Leader featured nude drawings of men with rude comments by the Soviet leader scribbled across them, some referring to his enemies. “Ginger bastard Radek,” Stalin wrote across the leg of one drawing, “if he had not pissed against the wind, if he had not been angry, he would still be alive.” But Stalin’s rude commentary could also be funny. “Don’t sit with a bare ass on stones,” he wrote on a drawing of a figure sitting on a pedestal. “Give the boy some pants.”