Watch CBSN Live

Smithsonian Clinton Portraits Debut

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's list of firsts is anything but brief. She was the first president's wife to be elected to office. She is the first woman elected to statewide office in New York.

And now the Democratic senator from New York becomes the first first lady whose portrait the Smithsonian Institution commissioned at the same time as her husband.

The senator and former President Clinton unveiled their National Portrait Gallery representations Monday night at a private ceremony for friends and patrons who helped underwrite part of the commissions.

"Many of my predecessors played a major role in our nation's history," the former first lady said, emphasizing the other women who filled the role. "One only has to read the stories to know this."

Her husband took a casual approach to the portrait. "If you grew up as I did, portraits were pictures of dead people," he said.

Mr. Clinton went on to highlight the successes of his presidency. He urged others to remember that those who matter are those affected by government, not those in the government portraits.

During the reception, the former president almost fell while signing autographs and shaking hands. Mr. Clinton meant to sit on a chair, but one of its legs slid off the stage. He braced himself on a different chair and a child's shoulder.

Nelson Shanks, whose other subjects have included Pope John Paul II, Princess Diana and President Reagan, completed President Clinton's 8½-by-5-foot portrait. Shanks depicted the president standing next to a fireplace and holding a newspaper, his left hand on his hip.

Sen. Clinton selected Ginny Stanford to paint her gallery portrait. Her portrait, a profile of the senator in a yellow suit, measures a smaller 33 inches tall and 43 inches wide.

The senator will not hang in the "America's Presidents" exhibition, an expanded version of the former "Hall of Presidents." Instead, she will be placed in the "Americans Now" exhibit with peers such as David Letterman and Toni Morrison.

Two first ladies, Dolley Madison and Martha Washington, will join their husbands in the presidential gallery.

The Portrait Gallery has been closed for renovations since 2000. It is scheduled to reopen July 1.