• Mary Evans Seeley

President and Mrs. Bill Clinton's Christmas Card: The Red Room

Updated: Oct 2, 2018

In a break from tradition, the Clinton's chose a contemporary artist to paint the Red Room featuring personal favorites such as a saxophone for Bill, a tea set for Hillary, a sled for Chelsea, along with Socks, the family cat.

After being pictured along with her husband on their first Christmas card, Mrs. Clinton decided she wanted “to highlight the house and the feeling that the house has during Christmas, which really is magical.” The First Lady was partial to a romantic figurative artist, Thomas F. McKnight, one of the country’s most popular contemporary artists, known in the art world for his silkscreens utilizing the bold use of color.

Thomas McKnight met the Clintons at a reception in the White House in October. He returned during Christmas and took many photographs back to his studio in Palm Beach, Florida. Visions of Christmas did not come naturally to the artist. McKnight admitted, “You’re not exactly inspired to do Christmas scenes in Florida.”

Thomas McKnight gave the Red Room an enchanted, almost humorous look, a marked departure from the traditionally formal Red Room scenes of the Kennedy and Reagan Christmas cards. Keeping with his unique, recognizable style, McKnight brought the Washington and Jefferson monuments into full view as if one were standing in the Red Room looking through a window by the light of a dreamy moon. “I attempt to evoke with color, form and imagination the essence of a place or thing without so much regard for historical accuracy,” said McKnight. “For me, a work of art is first and foremost a visual experience.”

In his depiction, McKnight removed 19th century paintings from the walls of the Red Room and replaced them with his own personal images. Above the door, he portrayed himself and his wife’s dog, Shadow, gazing over the rolling hills of Middletown, Connecticut. Above the fireplace, he created a fanciful rendering of the White House.

Traditionally, there had never been a Christmas tree in the Red Room. However, the artist superimposed items that were sentimental to the First Family, including a tree, into his rendition. Tucked into the sumptuous interior, McKnight hung three stockings on the mantel; placed a new saxophone for the President and a sled for Chelsea under the gracefully decorated tree; caught the Clinton cat napping under the chair; included a tea set on the table for Hillary, who loves tea; and included books for the Clintons, who were avid readers. Mrs. Clinton required no changes. She loved it.

To commemorate the Clintons' selection of the Red Room for their Christmas cards and gifts, I incorporated the Christmas tree from the Clinton Red Room on a Christmas ornament in 2018, which you can see in my "Ornaments" section.

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