Jill Biden Chose a Painting by a Civil-War Era Black Artist for Inauguration Day Gift Ceremony

Joe Biden received a symbolic—and optimistic—gift from his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, shortly after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States.

The new First Lady, 69, and Republican Sen. Roy Blunt presented Biden with an 1800s painting during the inauguration gift-giving ceremony Wednesday inside the Capitol building.

The gift exchange happened in lieu of the traditional Inauguration Day congressional luncheon, which was canceled due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Sen. Blunt, 71 of Missouri, noted that the luncheon traditionally features a commemorative painting selected by the chairman of The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to celebrate the new president. 

Sen. Blunt, co-chair of the committee with Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar,, instead presented the new president with the artwork inside the Capitol Rotunda, where the Biden family, Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, and a small group of guests all wearing face masks looked on.


Blunt said it was Dr. Biden, 69, who selected "Landscape with Rainbow," an 1859 painting by famous Black artist Robert S. Duncanson who Blunt described as "the best known African-American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War."

"[The painting] is sort of this 'classic America as a paradise' painting that a lot of painters were doing then," Blunt noted. "For him, a Black artist, painting this painting that's so much like an American utopia on the verge of a war that we would fight over slavery, makes all of that even more interesting … while he faced lots of challenges, obviously [he] was optimistic, even in 1859, about America." 

Duncanson's painting, borrowed from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, shows a young couple strolling through green pastures toward a cottage sitting at the end of a rainbow. 

Dr. Biden said she chose the painting for its optimistic vibe. 

"I like the rainbow—good things to follow," she told the crowd. 

"Let's hope!" Sen. Blunt responded.

President Biden, 78, received a variety of gifts from Congressional leaders during Wednesday's ceremony including a pair of U.S. flags that flew during the inauguration by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also gifted Biden photos from the swearing-in ceremony.

Another special gift came Klobuchar, who presented President Biden and Vice President Harris with crystal vases custom-made by Pennsylvania-based company Lenox. Lenox has crafted vases for the past nine presidential inauguration ceremonies. 

"It's a good thing I don't have to hand them to you personally, they each weigh with the base 32 pounds,  combined 64 [pounds], but Jill I know is very strong and could take them both," Klobuchar joked. 

Biden's vase features the White House while Harris's has a detailed etching of the U.S. Capitol building. 

As Klobuchar explained, the gifts "represent the hope and the faith the American people have placed in you to move our country forward." 

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