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.
Southgate MT. The Dry River. JAMA. 2005;293(8):903. doi:10.1001/jama.293.8.903
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