Cultures all over the world have always captured the likeness of famous figures in photographs, canvas, stone, and any number of other suitable surfaces. It’s important to remember these figures and honor their legacies. In the U.S., presidential portraits appear in the White House and museums so we always remember who led our country and pay homage to their achievements.
Some of those portraits capture the very essence of their subjects, but some definitely do not. Whether it’s bad hair, strange lighting, awful clothes, or just a stanky face, the bad portraits stand out. To view all past presidents’ portraits, we visited the website The White House Historical Association. Keep reading to find out what the worst presidential portraits of all time are — it might leave you wondering why the subjects didn’t ask for a do-over.
1. Donald Trump
President Donald Trump’s official portrait — a photograph — came out during his inauguration when he changed his Twitter avatar. Although it does capture his personality, he certainly doesn’t come off as stoic or regal. Instead, his famous furrowed brow and combative stare are evident, making him look like he’s brooding about something. And of course, there’s the hair.
Next: James A. Garfield — so somber
2. James A. Garfield
James Garfield served as the 20th President of the United States until he was assassinated in 1881. Prior to becoming president he served nine terms in the House of Representative sand is the only sitting House member to become president. Calvin Curtis painted his portrait in 1881 and it’s so dark it’s almost sinister. You would think they could have used some lanterns or candles so Curtis could see better.
Next: Clinton casualty
3. Bill Clinton
William J. Clinton was the 42nd President of the United States, serving from 1993 to 2001. Chuck Close, a hyperrealist portraitist, painted Clinton’s portrait from a picture he took of Clinton during a photo shoot in the Oval Office in 1996. Close has a very distinctive style — and sometimes it works. This time it didn’t — in it, Clinton looks like he’s missing some teeth, his nose bears a strong resemblance to W.C. Fields’, and the bags under his eyes could classify as luggage.
Next: Shakespeare or Washington?
4. George Washington
George Washington was the first President of the United States and served from 1789 to 1797. In 1796, Gilbert Stuart completed a massive portrait of him as a gift to the first Marquess of Lansdowne, aka the British Prime Minister. Today, the portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution — and there is also a replica of it in the White House’s East Room. Washington’s stance is so strange in the painting — he has his hand outstretched and looks a bit like Shakespeare. In addition, he’s wearing leprechaun shoes and has a strange look on his face.
Next: A caustic Cleveland
5. Grover Cleveland
The first Democrat, Grover Cleveland was elected after the Civil War. He has the distinction of being the only president to return to the White House for a second term four years after he served his first. Eastman Johnson painted oil on canvas of Cleveland in 1891. In the portrait, Cleveland looks so … pissed. Perhaps he was waiting for dinner and it was late.
Next: Abe Lincoln, the thinker
6. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, served from 1861 to 1865. George Peter Alexander Healy painted Lincoln in 1869 and the results were a bit cliché. The portrait shows Lincoln sitting with his chin in his hand — a classic “thinking man” pose — and his other hand holding the chair tightly, as if he’s ready to get right up and take action. The portrait’s symbolism is more than a bit heavy-handed.
Next: William Taft, a portly fellow indeed
7. William Taft
William Howard Taft served as the 27th President of the United States from 1909 to 1913. Anders Zorn painted his portrait in 1911 and it’s really odd. First, there’s something in his hand that is unrecognizable and second, his leg looks like it collapsed. And could Zorn possibly have made him more corpulent? Probably not.
Next: Pierce, Franking Pierce
8. Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States, serving from 1853 to 1857. In 1858 George Peter Alexander Healy painted his portrait, and it simply doesn’t look presidential. Pierce looks a bit too lively, almost like a 19th century James Bond — with a side part.
Next: James Madison — Dracula’s doppelganger
9. James Madison
James Madison was the fourth President of the United States — he served from 1809 to 1817. In 1816, near the end of his term, John Vanderly painted his portrait, which James Monroe, Madison’s buddy and successor, commissioned. The portrait is almost scary. In it, Madison looks like a vampire with his white widow’s peak and penetrating stare. Being president must have worn him out, because the bags under his eyes are prominent in the painting.
Next: Calvin Coolidge fail
10. Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States, served the country from 1923 to 1929. Charles Hopkinson — an award-winning painter who studied in the U.S. and abroad — painted his portrait in 1932. Coolidge looks like he’s in the witness chair in the portrait, waiting to testify. Charles S. Hopkinson painted Calvin Coolidge’s portrait in 1932. Nothing about it says “presidential.”
Next: James Monroe — mad as a hatter
11. James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States and served from 1817 to 1825. Samuel F.B. Morse painted him in 1819 — you might recognize Morse as the inventor of the telegraph. It’s probably a good thing he changed careers — his portrait of Monroe shows the president with crossed eyes, and he looks completely insane.
Next: Millard Fillmore flub
12. Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States, serving from 1850 to 1853. George Peter Alexander Healy painted his portrait in 1867 and it was a completely uninspiring likeness, according to The New York Times. In the picture, Fillmore is rocking a serious comb-over and pointing at something for some reason.
Next: James Polk, looking psychotic
13. James K. Polk
James K. Polk served as the 11th President of the United States from 1845 to 1849. George Peter Alexander Healy painted his portrait in 1858 and let’s just say it didn’t measure up. For some reason, Polk looks like a deranged madman in the portrait. It’s a wonder he didn’t get rid of it.
Next: Martin Van Buren blunder
14. Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States and served from 1837 to 1841. Once again, George Peter Alexander Healy was the artist of choice for the presidential portrait, which he painted in 1858. In the portrait, Van Buren bears a strong resemblance to Scrooge McDuck — or a character from a Dickens novel.
Next: John Adams, so austere
15. John Adams
John Adams served as the second President of the United States from 1797 to 1801. John Trumbull painted his portrait while he was still serving under George Washington as vice president — and the painting turned out badly. The lighting and his facial expression are just awful. Although powdered and curled hair was stylish at the time, he looks so … sad in the portrait. There is also something very odd going on between his wig and his hairline.
Next: A clueless John Tyler
16. John Tyler
John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States, serving from 1841 to 1845. George Peter Alexander Healy painted him in 1859 — and the portrait is really strange. For some reason, he’s holding a crumpled up newspaper in his hand. And the look on his face says he doesn’t have a clue why.
Next: John Quincy Adams unfortunate sitting
17. John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams served as the sixth President of the United States from 1825 to 1829. George Peter Alexander Healy painted his portrait in 1858. In it, he has a seriously mean look on his face, he’s sort of stroking a picture of George Washington with one hand, and he’s holding a book he isn’t reading. Add in the weird curtain and the jacket that doesn’t fit him and you’ve got a bad presidential portrait.
Next: High-strung Harding
18. Warren G. Harding
Warren G. Harding served as the 29th President of the United States from 1921 to 1923. Edmund Hodgson Smart painted his portrait in 1923 and for some reason made him look like a nervous Nellie. In the portrait, Harding looks like he’s wringing his hands — and like he’s scared to death.
Next: A total bust for Buchanan
19. James Buchanan
James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States, serving from 1857 to 1861.William Merritt Chase painted him in 1902, according to The New York Times, and he looks like a diva in the portrait. The pose. The hair that makes his head look like a Q-tip. The smile. All. Wrong.
Next: Rutherford B. Hayes: dark and gloomy
20. Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes served as the 19th President of the United States from 1877 to 1881. In 1884, Daniel Huntington painted him on canvas. Although Hayes looks fine, the background is very weird. It seems like a president should not be standing in front of a background made up of dark and gloomy skies.
Next: A grim Grant
21. Ulysses S. Grant
President U.S. Grant served as president from 1869 to 1877. When he sat for Thomas Le Clear in New York in 1879, the painter did three paintings of him — two years after he left office. Le Clear’s bust portrait of Grant is pretty bad. Unfortunately, you can’t see the chair he’s sitting in so it looks like he’s just floating. In addition, his ruddy complexion and tortured stare are downright odd.
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