A slight aimed at George W. Bush’s beloved dog inspired the image of Russian President Vladimir Putin set to debut at the former president’s exhibition of portraits of 24 world leaders.
“Vladimir Putin, yeah, I met with him a lot during the presidency. I got to know him very well,” Bush told his daughter Jenna Bush Hager in an interview that aired Friday on NBC’s “Today.” “I had a good relationship throughout. It became more tense as time went on.”
The former president once said that he had looked straight into Putin’s eyes and got “a sense of his soul.” Bush’s evaluation of Putin’s mindset still rings true as relations between the U.S. and Russia grow chilly over Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“Vladimir is a person who in many ways views the U.S. as an enemy, and although he wouldn’t say that, I felt that he viewed the world as either the U.S. benefits and Russia loses or vice versa,” he said. “I tried of course to dispel him of that notion.”
One memory in particular of the Russian leader shaped the portrait Bush painted of him.
“Our dear dog Barney, who has a special spot in my heart, I introduced him to Putin. Putin kind of dissed him,” he recalled to his daughter. “‘You call that a dog?’ A year later, your mom and I go to visit Vladimir at his dacha in Moscow and he says, ‘Would you like to meet my dog?’ Out bounds this huge hound, obviously much bigger than a Scottish Terrier. And Putin looks at me and says, ‘Bigger, stronger and faster than Barney.’”
“I took it in. I didn’t react,” he added. “Wow, anybody who thinks my dog is bigger than your dog is an interesting character. And the painting kind of reflects it.”
Bush also explained in the interview that he was “annoyed” when a hacker accessed his family’s emails and revealed some of his paintings to the public for the first time — particularly his bathtub self-portraits, which he said were just meant to “shock” his painting instructor.