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“Theodore Roosevelt” by John Singer Sargent

"Theodore Roosevelt" by John Singer Sargent

“Theodore Roosevelt” by John Singer Sargent

“Theodore Roosevelt” by John Singer Sargent is Roosevelt’s official presidential portrait. Sargent depicts the President’s physical vitality and self-assurance in nuanced blacks, grays, browns, and creams.

President Theodore Roosevelt’s official portrait was originally commissioned to Théobald Chartrand in 1902, but when Roosevelt saw the final artwork, he hated it and hid it in the darkest corner of the White House.

When family members called it the “Mewing Cat” for making him look so harmless, he had it destroyed and hired John Singer Sargent to paint a more masculine portrait.

Sargent arrived in America in1903 and soon received a letter from Roosevelt inviting him to live in the White House for a  month to work on the portrait.

Sargent and Roosevelt toured the White House together while Sargent explored for appropriate light and pose.

Sargent followed Roosevelt around the White House’s rooms, making sketches looking for the right lighting and pose, but was unhappy with them.

When Roosevelt headed toward a staircase to try the rooms on the second level, both of their patience was running thin. 

As Roosevelt led the artist up the stairs, the president said:

“The trouble with you, Sargent, is that you don’t know what you want.”

Sargent replied,

“No, the trouble, Mr. President, is that you don’t know what a pose means.”

Roosevelt, having reached the landing, planted his hand on the balustrade post, and turned to Sargent angrily snapped,

“Don’t I!”

The perfect pose had been found, and Sargent responded:

“Don’t move an inch. You’ve got it now,” 

Roosevelt, who was always active, only agreed to stay still for half an hour a day. 

Sargent formalized the pose and depicted Theodore Roosevelt with a near scowl expression and an expressive hand commanding the space.

When the portrait was eventually finished, it was adored by Roosevelt.

Portraits of Presidents of the United States

Beginning with President George Washington, it has been traditional for the United States president to have an official portrait taken during their time in office, most commonly an oil painting.

This tradition has continued to modern times. Presidents will often display the official portraits of former presidents whom they admire in the Oval Office.

The National Portrait Gallery has been collecting and preserving presidential portraits since its creation in 1962.

Portraits of Presidents of the United States

Presidential Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (1858 – 1919), often referred to as Teddy Roosevelt, was an American statesman, conservationist, naturalist, and writer, who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909.

He previously served as Governor of New York and the Vice President of the United States. Roosevelt became a driving force for the anti-trust policy while supporting Progressive Era policies.

His face is depicted on Mount Rushmore alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.

Roosevelt championed his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts, regulating railroads, and pure food and drugs.

He made conservation a top priority and established many new national parks, forests, and monuments to preserve the nation’s natural resources.

In foreign policy, he focused on Central America, where he began construction of the Panama Canal, and he expanded the Navy.

His successful efforts to broker the end of the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. 

During World War I, he criticized Wilson for keeping the country out of the war with Germany, and his offer to lead volunteers to France was rejected.

He considered running for president again in 1920, but his health continued to deteriorate, and he died in 1919. He is generally ranked in polls of historians and political scientists as one of the five best presidents.

“Theodore Roosevelt” by John Singer Sargent

  • Title:                Theodore Roosevelt
  • Artist:              John Singer Sargent
  • Year:                1903
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:     Height: 105.9 cm (41.6 ″); Width: 81.3 cm (32 ″)
  • Location:          White House

John Singer Sargent

John Singer Sargent is considered one of the leading portrait painters and is known for his evocations of his era’s luxury.

He created over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, and many sketches and drawings. He also traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. 

Many of John Singer Sargent portraits, which can be found in museums across the world, depict society’s leading lights and the opulence of their time.

America’s Manliest President | The Life & Times of Theodore Roosevelt

John Singer Sargent

Theodore Roosevelt Facts


“You can’t do sketches enough. Sketch everything and keep your curiosity fresh.”
– John Singer Sargent


Photo Credit: John Singer Sargent [Public domain]

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