This morning, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official, highly anticipated portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, painted, respectively, by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. The former President is sitting confidently in a chair with an all-over floral backdrop. The former First Lady is painted wearing a lovely white gown embellished with abstract African motifs.
President Obama’s commanding portrait is in keeping with Kehinde Wiley’s signature style and features Obama seated in a navy suit without a tie, meeting eyes with the viewer. Wiley explained that the foliage-filled background of the painting features flowers that allude to different moments in the former president’s life. Some flowers are a nod to Hawaii, while another, the violet, is the state flower of Illinois.
In his remarks, President Obama made special note of this aspect of Wiley’s work. “What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege. And the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognizing the dignity and grace of people who are often invisible in our lives and put them on a grand scale.”
Amy Sherald’s canvas, painted in shades of blue, gray, and white, presents Mrs. Obama in a manner that’s equal parts poise, grace, and power. Mrs. Obama delighted in the artwork, saying, “I’m thinking about young people, particularly . . . girls of color who will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them on the wall.” Upon seeing the work, Mr. Obama thanked the artist for capturing his wife’s “grace, beauty, charm, and hotness.”
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., which was created in 1962 by an Act of Congress, is the only location outside of the White House with a collection of portraits of former United States Presidents.
The two portraits will be on view at the museum beginning tomorrow. While Wiley’s will join the institution’s permanent exhibition of presidential portraits, Sherald’s will hang in its corridor of recent acquisitions through November 2018.