The painting in the background of President Trump's recent “60 Minutes” interview, which hangs in his private dining room at the White House, “instantly went viral,” according to the Seattle Times. It's also possible to tell the difference between real and fake Van Gogh's.

A dime a dozen

When the artist, Andy Thomas, saw the broadcast, he posted a link on Facebook to his website, so his followers could obtain a copy of the picture for themselves. It also sells in DC gift shops, both as a print and as a jigsaw puzzle. The actual painting remains in the artist's studio in Missouri.

The version seen in the White House is a facsimile. It reminded me of an old art story that rattles on to this day.

In the cards

Titled The Republican Club, the picture shows Trump and former presidents in his political party, sitting at a table playing cards. The players include Nixon, Eisenhower, Ford, Reagan, Teddy Roosevelt, both Bushes, and Lincoln. But its presence on the wall, in the president's private quarters, raises a question: Why did he hang a copy? Why didn't he purchase the original? He favors this portrait of himself over others. Thomas told the Washington Post how the president spoke of seeing a lot of paintings of himself and not liking them, but he liked this one.

Asked and answered

The reason Trump likes the way he looks in Thomas' painting is self-evident. As the painter pointed out, “I wanted to make everybody look as good-looking as they can, and try to shed the pounds where I need to. Or smooth some lines. I did it with every figure...I intentionally look for happy pictures.” Not unexpectedly, Thomas is an avowed fan of Norman Rockwell.

An earlier version of The Republican Club was even more sugar-coated. "The original one,” said Thomas, “ I had a very sweet picture of him smiling with Melania and maybe his grandkids. It was very becoming of him, but it didn’t look as much like Trump as it should.”

Real vs reprint

But given the president's enthusiasm for the final version, my question about why he didn't buy the original and why he settled for a copy is hard to fathom.

One possible answer lies in a Daily Mail story from October, when he insisted to a naysaying reporter that Renoir's famous painting, Two Sisters, hanging in his Manhattan penthouse, is the original, even though it's well known that the Chicago Institute of Art has owned the original work since 1933. Clearly, Trump doesn't distinguish between real and a reprint.

Twitter storm

One upshot of airing the painting on “60 Minutes,” was the action taken by former “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who asked his Twitter followers to re-title The Republican Club. One of the many tweets reported by the Miami Herald said, “Now this is a painting that should have had a built-in shredder,” referring to the Banksy painting Little Girl with a Balloon. Even if shredded, the president's copy of The Republican Club could easily be replaced with a quick trip to a DC gift shop.