Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, returning to Sacramento for the first time since leaving office, unveiled his official gubernatorial portrait at the Capitol on Monday, a lifelike image of the movie-star politician standing in front of the state seal.
It is a more polished version of Schwarzenegger than the one that left Sacramento four years ago, when his sunken public approval rating hovered around 23 percent. There was controversy surrounding his decision, as he left office, to reduce the manslaughter sentence of the son of Fabian Núñez, a political friend, and later, revelations of an extramarital affair.
If Schwarzenegger was not unwelcome in the state Capitol, he was not universally loved.
For his return to Sacramento, however, Schwarzenegger chose two favorable crowds. In the morning, he was lauded at a climate-change conference for his environmental advocacy, and in the afternoon he was cheered by a reunion of former staff members and advisers inside the Capitol rotunda.
Spectators looked on from the balconies.
“This is highly unusual,” the state’s current governor, Jerry Brown, said as he surveyed the crowd. “Never have I seen so many people and so many cameras for a news conference.”
Brown added, “Arnold, you still have it.”
The portrait of Schwarzenegger – by Gottfried Helnwein, a famous Austrian-Irish painter – will hang on the third floor of the Capitol, next to the portrait of Schwarzenegger’s immediate predecessor, Gray Davis.
The portrait is more than 4 feet wide and 6 feet high. That is larger than the portraits of other recent governors but smaller than those from long ago, state officials said.
“Arnold is one of the most remarkable men of our times,” Helnwein said in a prepared statement. “He is larger than life, he is a myth, and he has already lived several lives that became legends.”
Helnwein described Schwarzenegger as “a great lover and patron of the arts.”
“He often visited me at my studio in downtown Los Angeles, where we had long and inspiring discussions about art,” he said.
Kevin Starr, a former state librarian, told the audience that the photographic record of Schwarzenegger’s tenure reveals an easy smile, a sense of humor and, “among other things, that he is not too fond of neckties, favors cigars, cowboy boots and windbreaker jackets, each bearing the great seal of the state of California.”
A painted portrait, Starr said, “is more formally and exclusively an art form in which the artist seeks to release a message regarding the inner person, the private person, the subjective person ...”
The resulting portraits are subject-approved, and their unveiling offers a selective recollection of governors’ legacies.
Davis showed up for his portrait unveiling two years after being recalled. He talked about his work in education and natural resources.
For Schwarzenegger on Monday, it was infrastructure, political reform and the environment.
“My seven years as governor were the most fulfilling years that I’ve ever had in my life,” Schwarzenegger said. “I did not accomplish everything that was on my to-do list, and I don’t think any governor ever does. But I’m very proud of the things that we did get done.”
In the years since he left office, Schwarzenegger, 67, has returned to acting, formed the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy and released an autobiography, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.”
He also acknowledged, months after he left office, an affair with a member of his household staff, which resulted in a child he kept hidden for more than a decade.
He was joined at the ceremony by two of his children. His estranged wife, Maria Shriver, did not attend.
At the climate-change conference Monday, Schwarzenegger was praised for signing Assembly Bill 32, California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction law, despite objections from fellow Republicans.
“Arnold is a leader who let the science and the reality of climate change convince him that something needed to be done,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. “He was willing to ignore, or overcome, arguments that came from his own party about the politics of the issue.”
Schwarzenegger promoted the expansion of California’s environmental policies to other states and countries, and the movie lines he delivered reminded viewers what it was like to have a governor who, unlike Brown, did not use Latin to punctuate his remarks.
Recalling his success in 2010 defeating a ballot measure to roll back implementation of Assembly Bill 32, Schwarzenegger said he and environmentalists said “Hasta la vista, baby” to the proponents of the initiative.
Schwarzenegger and Brown shook hands on stage, and each praised the other. Then they went to the portrait unveiling, where Schwarzenegger said “not in my wildest dreams” did he think he would become governor or have his portrait hanging in the state Capitol.
“I might have envisioned a sculpture on Muscle Beach,” he said.
Brown, whose portrait already hangs at the Capitol from when he was governor before, from 1975 to 1983, called the occasion of the portrait’s unveiling an expression of continuity, “the passing of the torch from one governor to the next.”
Schwarzenegger’s likeness, which he paid for himself, was going upstairs, to the same floor that houses Brown’s modernistic portrait.
Brown told Schwarzenegger “the third floor is a lot better than the first floor in terms of the company.”