As painter, Bush finds muse in Putin

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George W. Bush famously said that he was able to look Russian President Vladimir Putin in the eye and "get a sense of his soul."

The impression appears to have been lasting, as the former president selected the Russian leader as the subject of one of 24 portraits he'll debut at his upcoming inaugural art show.

Bush also took a paintbrush to canvas to depict British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his close ally in the push for a military campaign against Iraq, and the Dalai Lama, among others.

In an interview with his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, for "The Today Show," Bush said none of the leaders had seen their portraits.

"But I hope they take it in the spirit in which these were painted in," the former president said. "That was the spirit of friendship. And you know, I admire them as leaders and was willing to give it a shot in terms of getting people to see how I felt about them."

Bush's depiction of Putin is likely to pique particular interest, as its debut comes amid worsening tensions between the U.S. and the Kremlin over Russia's incursion into Ukraine. The Obama administration and European allies have levied economic sanctions and travel restrictions against close allies of Putin, as well as his bank of choice.

Bush's retirement hobby of painting was first revealed in 2013, when a hacker released emails of some of his work. Those images included self-portraits, as well as depictions of some of his family's animals.

"It's an invasion of one's privacy,” Bush said. “And yeah, I was annoyed. And nor do I want my paintings to get out. And I found it very interesting the first painting that came out was the one I painted of myself in the bathtub. I did so because I wanted to kind of shock my instructor."

He said that particular work was inspired by his desire to " learn about painting water hitting water."

"And it kind of shows my sense of humor, I think," Bush said. "A little odd it was the first one to get released. ... And the truth of the matter is — my paintings are, not ready to be released. I mean, I'm still learning. And I don't know if they ever will be or not."

The portraits will be revealed on the NBC morning show on Friday, and on display later this month at his presidential library in Dallas.