The Artwork of President Reagan’s Oval Office

 President Reagan in the Oval Office. Behind him you can see some of the paintings and sculptures he chose to have inside the office during his presidency.

At the beginning of the year we posted about President Reagan’s Oval Office. In this post, we’ll look closer at some of the artwork and sculptures President Reagan chose to have inside the office during his presidency. 

Each President decorates the Oval Office. The artwork they choose reflects their values and tastes and inspires their work. For President Reagan, his choices for the artwork in his Oval Office reflected some of his core values: freedom, strong leadership, and patriotism. Some of his pieces mirrored his love for the West, portraying cowboys and wild animals. Below, we’ll look at a few different paintings and sculptures that were in President Reagan’s Oval Office.

Preaching to the Troops

President Reagan greatly admired President Lincoln, and had researched and read a great deal about the Civil War. In Preaching to the Troops, a painting by Sanford R. Gifford, Union troops, including men of the Seventh Regiment of New York, gather to hear a sermon while encamped in Washington, D.C.

A loan of the painting, from the collection of the Union League of New York, was made during President Gerald Ford’s administration. The painting was returned in January of 1989. Other titles are Seventh Regiment Encampment Near Washington and Sunday Morning in the Camp of the Seventh Regiment

George Washington

Perhaps one of the most historical paintings in President Reagan’s Oval Office is Charles Willson Peale’s George Washington. The depiction of General Washington in dress uniform with the light blue sash of Commander in Chief of the Continental Army was painted in 1776 for John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress. 

Washington is seen on Dorchester Heights after the siege of Boston. Across the harbor lies Boston, the 1775 siege of which is commemorated as Washington’s greatest victory during the opening stages of the Revolutionary War. Charlestown is burning in the distance. 

The artist, Charles Willson Peale, served as a captain of volunteers in the Revolution and often painted portraits of military leaders. Mr. and Mrs. Lansdell Christie loaned the painting to the White House in 1971 and eight years later, donated it to the White House Collection. President Ford and President Carter both had this portrait in their Oval Offices as well.

Andrew Jackson

This portrait of our seventh president was created by Thomas Sully. President Reagan admired the fact that Andrew Jackson came from humble beginnings, and was the first ‘western’ president born in the then frontier backcountry area near the border of North and South Carolina. The National Gallery of Art loaned the 1845 portrait of President Jackson to the White House from 1976 until 1990.

The Great Saddles of the West Sculptures

Many items in President Reagan’s Oval Office reflected his love for horses and the west, such as The Great Saddles of the West sculptures by Paul Rossi. This collection of miniature bronze sculptures, created in 1971, were displayed on the card tables in the Oval Office. The bronzes trace the evolution of American Western saddles from 1540 to 1910. The twelve Rossi saddles include:

  • Spanish War Saddle, c. 1540- Mission Vaquero Saddle, c. 1790
  • Cheyenne Indian Saddle, c. 1820
  • California Ranchero Saddle, c. 1830
  • Sante Fe (Mountain Man) Saddle, c. 1840
  • Texas Stock Saddle, c. 1855
  • Mother Hubbard Saddle, c. 1875
  • Great Plains Stock Saddle, c. 1880
  • McClellan Cavalry Saddle, c. 1885
  • California Classic Stock Saddle, c. 1890
  • Women’s Side Saddle, c. 1895
  • Stock Saddle, Swell Fork, c. 1910

The Great Saddles of the West sculptures were a permanent loan to the Reagan White House by the late Ambassador Walter Annenberg.

Harry Jackson presenting President Reagan with the Ol’ Sabertooth sculpture in the Oval Office, 1982.

Ol’ Sabertooth Sculpture

This bronze head of a cowboy was one of many sculptures President Reagan owned by the artist Harry Jackson. The President had come to know Jackson through his Secretary of Commerce, Malcolm Baldridge, who was a collector and friend of Jackson’s. In 1982, the artist himself presented President Reagan with the Ol’ Sabertooth sculpture that would be placed in the Oval Office.

Buffalo Skull Sculpture

Made by James L. Clark, this miniature bronze sculpture of a buffalo skull was a gift from Archie and Selwa Roosevelt. Archie was the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, and his wife, Selwa Roosevelt, served as President Reagan’s Chief of Protocol for seven years, the longest anyone has served in that position.

On the bronze is an inscription reading, “To President Ronald Reagan – a memento of President Theodore Roosevelt – with affection and gratitude from Archie and Selwa Roosevelt, June 1983.”

Bronze: Title Unknown

Displayed on the eagle card table is the bronze of a rider hunting a wild boar with a lance while mounted on horseback, depicting an Iberian tradition. The piece was created by the Portuguese artist, A. Coello, and was presented to President Reagan on January 19, 1984 by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain. The bronze was displayed in the West Wing until December 1988 when it was relocated to the president’s study next to the Oval Office.

Discussion Questions For Students and Educators:

1.) Which one of President Reagan’s artwork or sculpture choices is your favorite? Why?
2.) In this article we only look at a few of the artwork and sculptures inside President Reagan’s Oval Office – look up a piece not mentioned in the post above. What’s the history behind it? Why do you think President Reagan chose that piece?
3.) Pick another President and research some of the artwork they chose to have in their Oval Office. How did it represent their values?

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