Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post
On January 20th, Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States—and given that he wasted no time carrying out his presidential duties on Inauguration Day, it should come as no surprise that he already has a newly-redecorated Oval Office as his workspace. While the inauguration was underway, this historic room (and the rest of the White House) was treated to a makeover, with many furnishings being removed and replaced to suit the president’s vision for his new backdrop. After all, if there’s one thing many of us have learned from spending more time at home during the pandemic, it’s the importance of truly making a room your own.
The most noticeable—and telling—amendment made to the Oval Office at President Biden’s request is the plethora of artwork that pays tribute to those who came before him. This includes portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton, and busts of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Webster, Cesar Chavez, and Robert F. Kennedy. This decorating choice reflects Biden’s admiration for and willingness to learn from history—after all, he double majored in history and political science as an undergraduate student at the University of Delaware.
Of course, President Biden is not one to make choices solely based on aesthetics, so it’s hardly out of scope to presume that his artwork selections have a deeper meaning. Hanging above the Resolute desk (which has now been used by eight presidents in total, beginning with John F. Kennedy, and more recently used by Barack Obama and Donald Trump) is a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Similar to President Biden’s plans to help the U.S. overcome a difficult time in history due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FDR led this country amidst the Great Depression and World War II. In the same vein, the painting of Benjamin Franklin is said to illustrate Biden’s belief in the importance of science, something that is especially paramount in the age of a pandemic.
A Trump-era portrait that has since been removed was one of President Andrew Jackson, who was a proponent of slavery (and an owner of enslaved people himself). Jackson also signed the Indian Removal Act, which forced over 46,000 Native Americans out of their homeland. This choice of artwork came under scrutiny following a November 2017 event in which then-President Trump honored Navajo Code Talkers who served in World War II, with this portrait on the wall right behind them.
It should also be noted that the close proximity of the portraits of political rivals Jefferson and Hamilton in President Biden’s Oval Office was no accident—this was meant to emphasize the urgency of overcoming political differences in times of strife.
Suffice it to say, it seems like Biden is looking to the furnishings of his new Oval Office as a source of inspiration in challenging moments, and as a way to honor both his predecessors and other notable American figures.
Beyond (or rather, just below) the artwork of Biden’s Oval Office is a piece of decor that is noticeably more vibrant than its predecessor: a rich royal blue rug that was last seen in this room during the Clinton administration. This decor decision is a stark contrast from the Trump-era Oval Office, which had a predominantly neutral color palette, mainly made up of beige and other muted hues. It’s possible that this rug was chosen, at least in part, because blue is the color that is most often associated with the Democratic Party. Biden also swapped out Trump’s golden drapes for Clinton’s even brighter set of gold drapes. There are now just two remnants from the Trump Oval Office: a gray damask wallpaper selected by Trump himself and a pair of cream, patterned couches, which were originally part of George W. Bush’s Oval Office.
Given that President Biden only just moved into the White House yesterday—and the move-in process had to take place in under five hours—it is likely that more decor changes will soon be made to the Oval Office and other rooms in the People’s House. We’ll keep you posted!
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