Smithsonian’s Trump portraits to be funded with $650K from Trump’s PAC

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman tends the information desk at the National Gallery of Art in Washington June 6, 2012.
The Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum and research complex, includes 19 museums and galleries.

The political action committee controlled by former president Donald Trump has made a $650,000 contribution to the Smithsonian Institution that will almost entirely fund portraits of Trump and former first lady Melania Trump for the National Portrait Gallery, marking the first time in recent memory that a political organization has financed a former president’s portrait for the museum.

Trump’s Save America PAC disclosed a $650,000 “charitable contribution” to the Smithsonian Institution in a filing with the Federal Election Commission over the weekend. As first reported by Business Insider, the funds will go toward artists’ and other fees associated with the Trumps’ portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told The Washington Post.

Two artists have been commissioned for the paintings of Donald and Melania Trump, but their names have not been released. The commission fees for the two Trump portraits will be $750,000, to be covered by the Save America PAC donation and a second private gift of $100,000 from an as-yet-unannounced donor, St. Thomas said.

It is unclear when the Trump portraits will be completed, she added. The Obamas’ portraits were unveiled about 13 months after President Barack Obama left office.

Though unusual, the donation – and its use – is legal because Save America is a leadership PAC with few restrictions on the use of funds. Such political action committees, in addition to boosting like-minded candidates, can be used to pay advisers, cover travel expenses and defray legal bills, among other costs. Most of the money in Trump’s PAC comes from small-dollar donors responding to email and other solicitations.

Although the National Portrait Gallery was created by Congress in 1962, it did not begin commissioning portraits of outgoing presidents until 1994, when Ronald Sherr painted George H.W. Bush. The museum added the first lady’s portrait to the commission in 2006.

In the past, those portraits have been funded by private donations, usually from the supporters of the outgoing administration. More than 300 donors – including Steven Spielberg, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen – contributed to the $750,000 commission fees for the Obama portraits, which were painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, according to the Smithsonian. Donor lists for the Obamas’ and Bushes’ portraits did not include any political action committees.

The commissions for the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama made international art headlines in 2018 because of the stature of the painters, who were the first African American artists to receive the presidential commissions. Wiley is a contemporary art star known for his colorful and subversive approach, while Sherald was then an up-and-comer who won the gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016.

Nelson Shanks painted Bill Clinton, and Ginny Stanford depicted Hillary Clinton. Robert A. Anderson received the commission for the portrait of George W. Bush, which was unveiled in 2008; the two were classmates at Yale University. Laura Bush was painted by Aleksander Titovets.

In April of 2021, Donald Trump made his debut in National Portrait Gallery’s presidents exhibition with a Pari Dukovic photograph of Trump seated in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk.