I keep thinking about that line in Brooks’ column, in which he makes a point of noting that Bush is seated “between busts of Lincoln and Churchill.” Now obviously this was White House staging at its crudest — it’s no accident that Bush didn’t instead just pull up a chair between busts of Warren Harding and Millard Fillmore. But how common are busts of foreign politicians in the White House? Would they actually, in the course of a normal day, have a bust of Winston Churchill anywhere, let alone on display next to Abraham Lincoln?
… I suppose I could have googled it, but what fun would that be? Anyway, a reader who knows how to use a search engine forwards this:
In the Bush admistration’s oval office can be found several paintings depicting his home state of Texas. Also on display in President Bush’s oval office are three busts – one of Abraham Lincoln and another of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The third bust has become the object of a certain amount of controversy – a bronze bust of Winston Churchill sculpted by Jacob Epstein in 1946 and owned by the British Government Art Collection (GAC).
The British now want their bust back and insist that the artwork, loaned to President Bush four years ago by PM Tony Blair, should not have been loaned outside property owned by Great Britain.
The bust is part of an extensive collection of rare and valuable fine art owned by the British people and maintained by the government. The GAC oversees a huge hidden collection in an unknown underground storehouse somewhere in the Soho district of London. At last count the storehouse boasted over 12,000 works of art including 2,300 paintings and watercolours and 8,000 historical and modern prints by such famous artists as Gainsborough, Constable and Hogarth.
Shortly after he was sworn into office in 2001, President Bush mentioned in a speech that he “lamented the fact that there was not a proper bust of Winston Churchill…to put in the Oval Office” as he had been an admirer of the former British leader because as Bush later said, “he was a great war leader”. Bush’s statement prompted Tony Blair to make arrangements to loan the Churchill bust to the President for the duration of his term.
A spokesperson from the offices of the Government Art Collection said, “the sculpture remains a part of the Government Art Collection, and its display in the Whitehouse. I suppose that the only sense in which the loan is “unprecedented” is that the works of art in the Government Art Collection are almost exclusively used for display in British Government buildings to promote Britain and reflect our history, culture and achievements in the visual arts. So the loan of the work to the Whitehouse is unorthodox and outside our usual remit.”