A Selection of Art by World Leaders From Jimmy Carter to Adolf Hitler

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Last week, a series of sketches, small watercolors, and paintings were exhibited at Windsor Castle, including several works of art by members of the British royal family. Not everything in the show was revelatory — art making has been a common pastime among Britain’s kings, queens, and their families for centuries — but the show did include notebooks that belonged to Queen Victoria, who went out of her way to keep her art hidden during her own lifetime. When a few sketches were leaked to a journalist in the 1840s, Victoria applied to the courts for an injunction, which effectively kept the drawings out of view until they were put up for auction last January.

Especially in the age of long-distance psychoanalysis, in which pundits make assumptions about the mental health of public figures based on the slightest changes in their appearance and habits, world leaders have been cagey about exhibiting their handiwork. There’s just too much to go on; it’s not a surprise that on the few occasions when paintings or sketches by heads of state have entered the public eye, the reaction has been almost greedily eager. Here are a few such examples.

Adolf Hitler

[Image via Telegraph ]

Though they didn’t sell for much, the world paid attention when Richard Westwood-Brookes auction house put sketches by Hitler on the block. A lot of this has to do with folklore; many historians have speculated that Hitler’s rejection from art college helped shape his character in later years. There is a widely held (albeit unproved) belief that the professor who judged the sketches in Hitler’s file was Jewish.

George W. Bush

In February, a hacker named Guccifer leaked a series of paintings to The Smoking Gun by the former commander-in-chief, leading the thread to a cache of dozens more painting, including “over 50 dogs.” Most famous among the works was a self-portrait of President Bush in the shower.

Dwight Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, GCB, DSO, 1952. Oil on canvas, 49.5 x 59.5 cm

Possibly the most impressive showing among artists who also ran countries are the paintings of President Dwight Eisenhower. A lot of them are really, surprisingly good. This portrait, which hangs in Britain’s government art collection in London, depicts Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, an officer in the Eight Army who led the Allied victory in the Libyan Desert and Tunisia.

Jimmy Carter

[Image via Carter Center]

In 2009, an auction to benefit the non-profit programs operating out of the Carter Center in Atlanta included this country scene, painted by the Nobel Prize winner. A self-portrait rendering of the Camp David Accords, in which Carter oversaw Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat shake hands, had been put up for sale in 2005.

Emperor Huizong

[Image via soocang.com]

It’s hard to read the pain or personal angst that might supposedly come through in this portrait by Zhao Ji, also known as Emperor Huizong. An immensely talented painter and calligrapher, whose life in the late 11th and early 12th centuries was marked by an epicurean devotion to pleasure and art, Zhao Ji was the last emperor of the Song Empire. His departure from the throne was humiliating; deported to Manchuria for the last years of his life, he was demoted to the status of a commoner before he died, in exile. In 2002, the above painting sold for ¥25.3 million ($4.12 million) at a hotel in Beijing.