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The Cover
February 23, 2005

The Dry River

JAMA. 2005;293(8):903. doi:10.1001/jama.293.8.903

A man steeped in the light and lore of the American Southwest, the artist Peter Hurd (1904-1984) is himself the stuff of legend, not least because a president of the United States publicly refused to accept the official White House portrait painted by Hurd. By the mid-1960s Hurd had already been enjoying a quarter century of critical recognition and public acclaim. Among other works depicting his native New Mexico, he had produced more than a dozen covers for Time magazine. His wife Henriette (née Wyeth, N. C.'s first child), who was also an artist, had done Time's Christmas 1953 cover: a portrait of her younger brother, Andrew. Together Peter and Henriette painted the portrait that appeared on the January 1, 1965, cover of Time when its editors named Lyndon Baines Johnson 1964 Man of the Year. Almost immediately there came a request from the White House that Peter do Johnson's official presidential portrait. When it was finally finished in 1965 and presented to him, Johnson rejected it and fired off the remark heard ’round the world: “It's the ugliest thing I ever saw.” When Hurd asked what he would have liked, Johnson is reported to have shown Hurd a Norman Rockwell painting. But the cause célèbre took on an even more delicious notoriety when the painting was given to the National Portrait Gallery. The directors declined to hang it, explaining that since Johnson had helped them to get that building, no one wished to offend him. It was hung only after Johnson's death, where it remains today.

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