Barack and Michelle Obama Unveil Their History-Making Official Portraits
The Obamas may no longer live in the White House, but they continue to break barriers.
On Monday, the National Portrait Gallery unveiled the portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama and the newly commissioned pieces are making history. The artists behind the artwork are Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, the first African-Americans ever to create official presidential portraits for the gallery, which contains more than 1,600 works of art. The two new pieces will be on display beginning Feb. 13.
President Obama’s portrait, by Wiley, finds him sitting with a floral background. Time says the New York City-based artist is "best known for his vivid depictions of people of color." According to the Smithsonian, Obama said of Wiley’s work: “What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege,”
Baltimore-based Sherald’s depiction of Michelle Obama is a softer one. According to writer Kriston Capps, Michelle reacted to the unveiling (in a custom Milly dress) by saying, “Let me just take a minute. Wow. It’s amazing.” In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the National Portrait Gallery Outwin Boochever Portrait competition. She’s known for her use of bold colors and for depicting African American subjects in different shades of gray.
On Twitter, reactions varied and people discussed the importance of the art, and what they personally thought of the pieces.
The National Portrait Gallery has been commissioning these portraits since the George H.W. Bush administration, and in 2006, the gallery began including portraits of the First Lady. President Obama’s portrait will be on display at the American Presidents exhibit on the second floor of the gallery, while Michelle Obama’s will find a home in another area of the museum.
A few facts about the portraits? The National Portrait Gallery uses funds from private donations to pay for the artwork, though Congress used to take care of the bill. According to Time, the presidents typically choose the artists to depict them, meaning they’re more likely than not pleased with the results. Sometimes, they can ask for a new piece, which Theodore Roosevelt did after disliking his original.