Artist says he painted Lewinsky reference in Bill Clinton’s official painting

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Portrait of Bill Clinton by Nelson Shanks (National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons)

Portrait of Bill Clinton by Nelson Shanks (National Portrait Gallery via Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — The painter whose portrait of former President Bill Clinton hangs in the National Portrait Gallery snuck a covert reference to Monica Lewinsky into it.

Nelson Shanks, the celebrity painter, told the Philadelphia Daily News in an interview published Sunday that his 2006 Clinton portrait includes a shadow on the mantle, just to Clinton’s left, that represents Lewinsky’s famous blue dress.

It’s a metaphor, Shanks said, for “a shadow on the office he held” — and it’s also literally the shadow of a blue dress the painter had.

“The reality is he’s probably the most famous liar of all time,” Shanks said. “He and his administration did some very good things, of course, but I could never get this Monica thing completely out of my mind and it is subtly incorporated in the painting.”

“If you look at the left-hand side of it there’s a mantle in the Oval Office and I put a shadow coming into the painting and it does two things,” he said. “It actually literally represents a shadow from a blue dress that I had on a mannequin, that I had there while I was painting it, but not when he was there. It is also a bit of a metaphor in that it represents a shadow on the office he held, or on him.”

The Clintons, Shanks said, “hate the portrait” — though he didn’t mention whether he’s ever told the former president about the shadow and its significance.

Lewinsky is the former White House intern with whom Clinton admitted having what he called an inappropriate relationship while she worked at the White House in 1995 and 1996. The scandal led to Clinton being impeached by the House of Representatives.

One piece of evidence uncovered during an investigation into their relationship was a blue dress Lewinsky had worn during an encounter with Clinton.

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