As part of the inauguration festivities, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will display a photo-portrait of the president-elect, though it won’t be the traditional kind reserved for heads of state. What you’ll get is an image of a 40-something Trump tossing an apple in the air taken when he was an ambitious developer in the Big Apple, before he saw how hard it was and opted to sell his name to other developers instead. Bartering his brand was as easy as tossing an apple in the air. The portrayal, then, is more than a pose, it tells a story, and while 28 years old, it still applies.

(More about this in a moment)


The apple has a long history as a symbol with many meanings. Ancient myth has it that Dionysus, god of intoxication, created the fruit. Old Norse legend held that it brought eternal youth. The Celtic religion viewed it as an emblem of knowledge. This was how the Old Testament saw it growing in the Garden of Eden on the Tree of Good and Evil. and we all know how that turned out. Of course, Genesis didn’t mention the type of fruit, probably because the apple hadn’t yet been discovered east of the Mediterranean.

Hide and seek

But if photographer O’Brien was inspired by anything in his depiction of Trump, it’d be the self-portrait of Surrealist Rene Magritte titled “Son of Man,” which describes the painter’s face blocked by an apple drifting from the sky.

And the curious thing is that Magritte’s work seems to point directly to Trump in that nothing in his paintings are what they seem. For example, the floating fruit that hides most of Magritte’s face was his way of saying that what you see is not all there is, that what you see hides other things. In fact, what is visible is never the main idea; it’s what it hides.

All of which seems to speak for Trump and his lack of transparency – avoidance of questions from the press and refusal to show his tax returns. You might even say that his tweets, like Magritte’s apple, conceal him. Like the artist, Trump is either hiding something or nothing.


Another unwitting link between Trump and Magritte: the painter went out of his way to be different, famously saying, “I take pains never to be conventional when I am painting and insofar as possible when I am not painting.” But wait, there’s one thing about Trump that is nothing like Magritte.

The painter disavowed material things, pooh-poohing money, both for itself and for what it can buy. He also “despised” the decorative arts, something Trump likes a lot, particularly if plated in shiny pink gold. In the end, the apple in Trump’s portrait may stand for many things –knowledge, immortality, temptation. It’s also a sign of the fall of man. We’ll have to wait and see which way his presidency goes.