Fact Check

Did Epstein Own Painting of G.W. Bush Playing with Paper Planes in Front of Collapsed Towers?

Petrina Ryan-Kleid painted the work as a graduate art student in New York City in 2012.

Published Jan 5, 2024

 (Petrina Ryan-Kleid)
Image Via Petrina Ryan-Kleid
Claim:
Jeffrey Epstein owned a painting of former president George W. Bush playing with paper airplanes while sitting in front of two collapsed Jenga towers.
Context

In 2019, media outlets reported on the existence of a painting of Bill Clinton wearing a dress allegedly displayed in Epstein's Manhattan residence. The painting of Bush is real and by the same artist, but no reporting has credibly suggested Epstein owned it.

In early January 2024, following the release of formerly sealed court documents submitted as evidence during a 2016 defamation suit against now-deceased, convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, an oft-repeated assertion that Epstein owned a painting depicting former U.S. President George W. Bush on the floor of the Oval Office like a child, holding two paper airplanes over two collapsed towers of blocks went viral:

The claim is often shared on social media alongside a statement made by Joe Rogan on his podcast presenting the assertion as fact:

Does anyone else think it’s weird that Jeffrey Epstein had a painting of George Bush playing with paper airplanes, sitting in front of two collapsed Jenga towers?

The picture is a real painting by artist Petrina Ryan-Kleid, but there has never been any evidence to suggest Epstein owned or displayed it. This false notion originated from August 2019 reporting about a different painting — by the same artist — that several sources alleged at the time was prominently displayed in Epstein's Manhattan home. That painting, "Parsing Bill," depicted Bill Clinton wearing a blue dress and red heels:

The Daily Mail first reported on the alleged existence of the Clinton painting in Epstein's home, citing an unnamed source "who saw it during a business meeting." This source provided a photograph of the painting as it allegedly appeared on the wall of Epstein's home. The location was verified, the Daily Mail said, with the photo's location metadata. The New York Post followed with a story that cited "law enforcement sources" who saw it, in addition to the Daily Mail source.

It is unclear, the Daily Mail cautioned, if the painting seen by its source was a print or the original art, as both the Clinton painting and the Bush painting are for sale as prints online. Ryan-Kleid said she displayed the Clinton painting in 2012 as part of her MFA work for the New York Academy of Art, at a fundraiser attended by various celebrities and bigwigs. She did not know who bought it or what became of it, as reported by the Daily Mail:

Artist Petrina Ryan-Kleid exhibited the original painting, which is called 'Parsing Bill', for her degree show when she graduated with an MFA in 2012 from the New York Academy of Art. She told DailyMail.com: 'In 2012, as a grad student at the New York Academy of Art, I painted pictures of Presidents Clinton and Bush as part of my Master's thesis.

'When the school put on a fundraiser at the Tribeca Ball that year, they sold my painting to one of the attendees. 'I had no idea who the buyer was at the time. As with most of my paintings, I had completely lost track of this piece when it was sold seven years ago.

The Daily Mail devoted a great deal of visual space to the Bush painting as an example of another painting by Ryan-Kleid, but this source — which broke the story in the first place — never asserted that this later painting had any connection to Epstein. "Petrina Ryan-Kleid also painted this portrait of George W. Bush as part of her work at the New York Academy of Art," the Daily Mail said.

This fact alone makes the claim unfounded. But further photographic evidence suggests it would have been unlikely for the same person to purchase both of these paintings from that same event. Photographs taken from the event leading to the sale of "Parsing Bill" show that the painting of Bush had not yet been completed, and would therefore have been unlikely to have been for sale at the same time:

Because no credible reporting has ever suggested that Epstein owned both the Clinton and Bush presidential paintings by Ryan-Kleid, and because it is unlikely the Bush painting sold at the same time as the Clinton one, the claim is Unfounded.

Sources

Does Anyone Find It Weird... https://www.tiktok.com/@phreaxr/video/7253619077200006401?lang=en. Accessed 4 Jan. 2024.

“Dozens More Jeffrey Epstein Documents Are Now Public. Here’s What We Know so Far.” AP News, 3 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/jeffrey-epstein-ghislaine-maxwell-virginia-giuffre-3af500d4788ad45301be426628846d71.

Epstein Had Painting of Bill Clinton in Dress in Townhouse. 14 Aug. 2019, https://nypost.com/2019/08/14/epstein-had-bizarre-painting-of-bill-clinton-in-dress-heels-in-townhouse/.

“New York Academy Of Art 2012 Tribeca Ball.” Guest of a Guest, https://guestofaguest.com/new-york/events/new-york-academy-of-art-2012-tribeca-ball. Accessed 4 Jan. 2024.

“Petrina Ryan-Kleid.” Guest of a Guest, https://guestofaguest.com/directory/petrina-ryan-kleid. Accessed 4 Jan. 2024.

Roundtree, Cheyenne. “Artist Had No Idea Portrait of Bill in a Dress Was in Epstein’s Home.” Mail Online, 16 Aug. 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7362569/Student-no-idea-portrait-Bill-Clinton-dress-Jeffrey-Epsteins-home.html.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.