The One Image Of Theodore Roosevelt You'll Never Be Able To Find

It has been a tradition to have the sitting president of the United States have a portrait done. The custom started with the first president, George Washington, and continues to this day. The White House Historical Association displays all the presidential portraits done throughout the years. However, the portrait of Theodore Roosevelt wasn't the original presidential painting that was commissioned. Instead, it's the replacement portrait painted by artist John Singer Sargent.

Theobald Chartran was a French portrait artist who made a name for himself in his home country. By the late 1890s, Chartran started spending time in the United States to widen his horizons, and he was commissioned to paint portraits of Sarah Bernhardt, Andrew Carnegie, and other big names. In 1901, Roosevelt was elected president and as a present, the French Ambassador presented him with a portrait of his wife Edith Roosevelt painted by Chartran. The artist also did a portrait of Roosevelt's daughter Alice. According to The Daily Beast, Roosevelt was so impressed with the paintings that when the time came for him to have his presidential portrait done, he chose Chartran to do it.

Theodore Roosevelt's first presidential portrait

Theobald Chartran went to Washington in 1903 to start Theodore Roosevelt's portrait. However, upon seeing the progress, Roosevelt wasn't pleased with the outcome. He shared his dismay in a letter to his son that read, "Chartran has been painting my picture. I do not particularly like it" (via Boundary Stones). The artist had a bit of difficulty painting the president, and he said that although he was witty and charming, he couldn't sit still.

The portrait was completed soon after, and Roosevelt's entire family didn't appreciate it. His children made fun of it, and it became a joke in the family. Roosevelt said that he looked like a "mewing cat" in the portrait. Upon its completion, the painting was brought to France for an exhibition, and the public loved it. However, the public's perception didn't change Roosevelt's view of the painting. When it was returned to the White House, the president decided that he didn't want it to be displayed where it could be seen by many people. "Neither the President nor his wife has ever liked the portrait. It was hung in the upper corridor, in the darkest spot on the wall, and by the family, it has always been called the Mewing Cat," said Archibald Aide, Roosevelt's aide, as reported by Clinton White House.

The painting was destroyed

Just days after Theobald Chartran completed the painting and went back to France, another artist, John Singer Sargent, arrived at the White House. Theodore Roosevelt then decided to have him paint his portrait, as he was so dismayed with the first one. Like Chartran, Sargent had a difficult time painting the president.

The two men disagreed on the setting of the painting as well as the pose. According to Boundary Stones, it was in the middle of an argument when the president's pose was finally settled. Roosevelt said that Sargent didn't know what he wanted, and the artist retaliated by saying the president didn't know how to pose. Upon hearing that, Roosevelt put his hand on his hip and yelled, "Don't I!" And it was then that Sargent said that he found the perfect spot and pose. Sargent tried hard to make the president sit still, but it was difficult. He was a busy man and only had time to sit for the portrait 30 minutes at a time. The artist also said that he felt like "a rabbit in the presence of a boa constrictor" in front of Roosevelt. He finished the painting in a little over a week, and his work became Roosevelt's official presidential portrait.

As for the mewing cat painting by Chartran, Roosevelt ordered for it to be burned after a few years of hanging on a dimly lit wall.