The official portraits of former POTUS Barack Obama and FLOTUS Michelle Obama were unveiled today at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The works of art were much anticipated due to the former president’s choice of artist: Yale University-trained painter Kehinde Wiley, who is known for his portrayal of African-Americans as “famous figures in Western art,” and who takes influence from the Old Master paintings in which the subjects are typically depicted as formal, regal, and august.
Barack Obama is seen sitting in a backdrop of flowers; Chrysanthemums, which are the official flower of Chicago (where Obama began his political career), jasmine, to represent his childhood home of Hawaii, and African blue lilies symbolizing his Kenyan-born father, Barack Obama Sr.
“How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” said 44 during the unveiling. “I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow (him) to do what I asked. I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”
— Portrait Gallery (@NPG) February 12, 2018
Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald for her portrait. The African-American artist is known for using gray paint to represent black skin tones, serving as commentary on perception of skin and its symbolic nature in America. For the first time ever, a presidential portrait was done in a more abstract than realistic style.
Amy Sherald’s incredible portrait of @MichelleObama. Sherald uses greyscale to paint skin tone in order to take away “color,” so her subjects can be seen for their personality and presence. pic.twitter.com/mLiLZSlNEU
— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) February 12, 2018
“Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love,” President Obama said of the work.
Michelle Obama added: “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”
Naturally, the Obamas’ appearance, always enveloped in such grace and humility, brought all the nostalgic tears to the yard. Chrissy Teigen said it best:
come back pic.twitter.com/R3SZ7Pmdf5
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 12, 2018
Michelle Obama is speaking right now at the unveiling at the National Portrait Gallery and my God I miss her.
— Amber Tamblyn (@ambertamblyn) February 12, 2018
— Martese Johnson (@martesejohnson_) February 12, 2018
Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits that will hang in the National Gallery. Incredible. pic.twitter.com/qkTxk8SwlC
— alex medina (@mrmedina) February 12, 2018
Pres Obama jokes about trying to negotiate with his artist for less gray hair and smaller ears, but it didn't work out. pic.twitter.com/Ez522XijSY
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 12, 2018
Many on Twitter were pleased with the depictions, especially by how much they differed from previous presidential portraits:
uhh, yeah, I think Obama's presidential portrait is wonderful, especially compared to literally every single other president pic.twitter.com/7iMm0hEhgZ
— Logan Rhoades (@LoganRhoades) February 12, 2018
Amy Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama is stunning. The softening contrast has me lost and thinking. pic.twitter.com/TZcexM97jB
— Brian Santa Maria (@briansantamaria) February 12, 2018
I'm not sure what I like more…
President Obama's official portrait, or the fact that he chose a gay black man to paint it.
— Brian Krassenstein🐬 (@krassenstein) February 12, 2018
— BWD 🤢 You People Replaced Obama With This (@IrisRimon) February 12, 2018
People were quick to point out a few highly important correlations:
Obama's new portrait looks awfully familiar… pic.twitter.com/S5wenGJTPq
— Colleen Wordock (@cwordock) February 12, 2018
Obama's portrait is especially weird because as a purported White Sox fan, it's unclear how he ended up in the Wrigley ivy. pic.twitter.com/ScEMvYHKSg
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 12, 2018
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) February 12, 2018
What the Obama portrait looks like: pic.twitter.com/sOiAxMP8G0
— Blair Guild (@BlairGuild) February 12, 2018
Something just seems off about the Obama portrait. Not sure what it is.. pic.twitter.com/rco6gkmEfv
— Nick Short 🇺🇸 (@PoliticalShort) February 12, 2018