Bill Clinton’s official portrait includes shadow of Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress, artist says

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The artist who painted the official portrait of President Bill Clinton says he quietly included a reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal — and the infamous blue dress — in his painting.

“If you look at the left-hand side of it, there’s a mantel in the Oval Office,” Nelson Shanks told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I put a shadow coming into the painting, and it does two things. It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.”

The revelation of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, a White House intern, created a firestorm in American politics and led to the president’s impeachment in 1998.

A portrait of former President William Jefferson Clinton, a 2005 oil on canvas by artist Nelson Shanks, was unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, April 24, 2006. (National Portrait Gallery, Nelson Shanks/AP Photo)
A portrait of former President William Jefferson Clinton, a 2005 oil on canvas by artist Nelson Shanks, was unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery, April 24, 2006. (National Portrait Gallery, Nelson Shanks/AP Photo)

The 77-year-old Shanks, who has painted everyone from Princess Diana to Pope John Paul II, said Clinton was the hardest.

“The reality is he’s probably the most famous liar of all time,” Shanks said. “He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind, and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.”

The 2001 portrait is part of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, though Shanks says the 42nd president would like it removed.

“The Clintons hate the portrait,” he continued. “They want it removed from the National Portrait Gallery. They’re putting a lot of pressure on them.”

But a museum spokesperson told ABC News that they have not received any requests from the Clintons to remove the portrait.

The shadow is not the only controversial part of the painting. When the portrait was unveiled in 2006, it caused a minor stir because Shanks left out Clinton's wedding ring.

According to Shanks, Clinton personally chose him to paint his official portrait. And in a 2001 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Shanks insisted he was taking the assignment seriously.

“There are times when I love to play all kinds of complicated games in painting,” Shanks said. “But I think this is one case when I need to be fairly straightforward. I’ll just try to paint the man, his intelligence, his amiability and his stature, maybe paint him fairly close to humor and try to get it just right.”

Last year, Lewinsky wrote publicly about the affair for the first time.

“It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress,” Lewinsky wrote in an essay for Vanity Fair. “I am determined to have a different ending to my story.

“I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton,” she continued. “Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret. What. Happened.”

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