«On Saturday, former US President George W Bush, who has said he is admittedly “not a great painter”, opens a public exhibit of his works – more than 24 portraits of world leaders he met while president.
His Angela Merkel shows a more cheery side to the German chancellor than her sometimes grumpy public persona projects.
But perhaps the most eagerly anticipated portrait is that of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
During their first meeting, in Slovenia in 2001, Mr Bush came close to claiming he could read the former KGB spymaster like a book.
“I looked the man in the eye,” he famously said. “I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
But here he is rendered as a poker-faced Putin, more enigmatic and unreadable.
There’s a coldness to the portrait of a leader whom Mr Bush referred to privately as “Pootie Poot”.
Mr Bush, or “43” as he signs each canvas, reckons this to be his finest work.
Mr Bush said the Dalai Lama is “a very sweet man, and I painted him as sweetly as I could”
For those of us who covered the Bush presidency, from the golf rounds to the mountain-bike riding, from the brush clearing to that Top Gun moment in the aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, his newfound hobby is an improbable departure.
But he paints every day, gets a lesson every week and says his inspiration came from his great hero Sir Winston Churchill.
Those who interacted closely with Mr Bush during his White House years reckon he was unrecognisable from the two-dimensional figure who lent himself to such easy caricature.
Certainly, his artwork has added an extra and unexpected side.
By Nick Bryant
Critic: ‘Bush in a different light’
“It was a surprise when it emerged that he was painting,” Philip Kennicott, art critic for the Washington Post, says. “It’s anachronistic to paint, so it suggested a level of patience and reflection that often times Bush wasn’t credited with.
“I certainly see this as humanising him. You know – show yourself as earnestly involved in a skill and hopefully do it well enough so that we don’t laugh you off. I think this gives him a chance to be seen in a different light.”
Critic: ‘Bush as folk artist’
“He’s made himself strangely vulnerable,” Daniel Rolnik, a Los Angeles-based critic who writes for ArtSlant and other publications, says. “It’s more the fact that he’s doing it than his technical ability – that’s what folk art is all about.”
“He’s like a folk artist. He knows that he wants to show you these portraits of people, but he’s not a trained artist. In a weird way he’s the most American folk artist ever because he’s had the highest position in America.”»
Using waste to launder dirty money. That’s what Italian prosecutors believe is going on Romania. The money in question is the so-called treasure of one of Sicily’s most powerful mafia bosses, former Palermo mayor Vito Ciancimino. Prosecutors in Italy believe the company running Europe’s largest landfill site, on the outskirts of Bucharest, acts as a front for Massimo Ciancimino, Don Vito’s son. And it is a lucrative business.