Gen. James Conway unveils his official portrait

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Retiring Commandant Gen. James Conway smiles after the unveiling of his portrait in the Home of the Commandants today. (Photo by Cpl. Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo /Marine Corps)

The Passage of the Commandants ceremony this morning has resulted in a passing of the guard, with retiring Commandant Gen. James Conway handing over the reigns of the Marine Corps to Gen. James Amos.

The ceremony also means something else, however: The unveiling of the outgoing commandant’s portrait.

For the last four years, Conway has lived in the Home of the Commandants, one of the oldest public buildings in all of Washington. Nestled into a corner of Marine Barracks Washington’s grounds, it was built in 1806, and has served as home to all but two of the Corps’ top officers, Marine officials say.

Traditionally, outgoing commandants leave their mark on the home in a few ways. For one, they leave a gift behind — fine china, say, or an elegant piece of furniture.

Since 1916, portraits of each outgoing commandant also have been hung in the house, and typically unveiled upon retirement.

I bring all this up after seeing the image above. Released by the Marine Corps today, it shows Conway unveiling his official portrait. The artwork shows the general in his dress blues, cover in hand.

I’ll be interested to hear in coming days how Conway came to choose the concept for the portrait. Commandants have wide latitude in how they are portrayed in the portraits, and have been depicted in the past in virtually every Marine ensemble, including the utility uniform.

My own personal favorite story about commandant portraits involves retired Gen. James Jones. Tour guides at the Home of the Commandants point out that he is depicted in front of a fireplace mantle decorated with a framed photograph (it’s shown here). The guides say the photograph in the portrait shows him and his wife, Diane — Jones’ heartfelt way of including her in a piece of history.

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I’m a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

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