Period & Style

Warren Perry, writer at NPG, discusses a 1967 portrait of Lyndon Johnson by artist Peter Hurd.

Few individuals have managed to harness the forces of American politics better than Lyndon Johnson. Thus, when he surrendered his position as Senate majority leader to become John Kennedy's vice president in 1961, it was inevitable that he should bridle at the political limbo of his new office.

But when Johnson became president upon Kennedy's assassination, his ability to get what he wanted was soon yielding a string of landmark legislation that included a far-reaching civil rights act and a federally funded "war on poverty." Unfortunately, escalation of the war against Communist aggression in Vietnam overshadowed those successes. By the end of his presidency, Johnson had gone from being one of the most successful presidents in history to one of the most maligned.

This portrait by Peter Hurd was meant to be Johnson's official White House likeness. But that plan was quickly scrapped after Johnson declared it "the ugliest thing I ever saw." Soon the pun was making the rounds in Washington that "artists should be seen around the White House-but not Hurd."

Recorded at NPG, October 17, 2012.


Lyndon Baines Johnson / Peter Hurd / Tempera on wood, 1967 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the artist; Frame conserved with funds from the Smithsonian Women's Committee




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