George W. Bush: Putin "Views the U.S. as an Enemy"

Bush, who found painting as his new passion after leaving the White House in 2009, painted a portrait of Putin and 23 other world leaders

By Cathy Rainone
|  Friday, Apr 4, 2014  |  Updated 2:54 PM EDT
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Former President George W. Bush said Russia's President Vladimir Putin sees the United States as its enemy and he tried to convince Putin to change his opinion while president.

“I got to know him very well,’’ Bush told his daughter and “Today” correspondent Jenna Hager Bush on Friday’s show. “I had a good relationship throughout. It became more tense as time went on.”

He added: “Although he wouldn’t say that, I felt he viewed the world as either U.S. benefits and Russia loses, or vice versa. I tried to, of course, dispel him of that notion.”

Bush, who found painting as his new passion after leaving the White House in 2009, painted a portrait of Putin and 23 other world leaders. Those paintings will go on display Saturday as part of the exhibit "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy” at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

On “Today,” Bush also recounted a meeting with Putin he thought revealed a lot about the former KGB officer.

“As you know, our dear dog Barney, who had a special place in my heart — Putin dissed him and said, ‘You call it a dog?’’’ Bush told Hager. “A year later, your mom and I go to visit and Vladimir 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.’

Bush said he “just took it in” and didn’t react.

“I just said, ‘Wow. Anybody who thinks ‘my dog is bigger than your dog’ is an interesting character.’ And that painting kind of reflects that,” Bush said.

The exhibit is Bush’s first as an artist, and also includes portraits of his father, former President George H. W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as artifacts, photographs and personal reflections. It runs through June 3.

"I don't think he has [seen it],'' Bush said about Blair’s portrait. "No telling how these people are going to react when they see their portrait. I think I told Tony I was painting him, but he kind of brushed it off, so to speak.

"He said, 'You painted my portrait?' I hope he likes it. I like it because it conveys a compassionate person and a strong person and a reliable friend."

Bush said his favorite portrait to paint was that of this dad.

"I watched him very carefully through his presidency," Bush said. I always admired him as a man. It was a joyful experience to paint him. I painted a gentle soul."

Bush said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, also a painter, was his inspiration to pick up a brush and hire an instructor.

"She said, 'What's your goal?' and I said, 'Well, there's a Rembrandt trapped in this body,''' Bush said. "Your job is to unleash him."

“Has she?” Hager asked.

“Time will tell,” Bush replied.

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