The National Portrait Gallery unveiled the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle on Monday — with the art world finally seeing how they are portrayed by the noted African-American artists they selected to portray them.
If you look closely – you will see in Obama’s picture the official flower of Chicago.
The event — on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday — was a homecoming, with many members of the Obama administration and the Obama family including Vice President Joe Biden and Marian Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s mother.
Others at the unveiling ceremony included Steven Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, who were among the donors for the portraits and Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson and Shonda Rhimes.
Obama, the nation’s first African-American president, selected Kehinde Wiley; Mrs. Obama picked Amy Sherald. Both artists are known for their painting of African-Americans.
“Pretty sharp!” Obama said about this portrait. Obama said Sherald captured the “hotness” of his wife.
Both Obamas said they bonded with their artists, who attended the unveiling.
“I tried to negotiate less gray hair” Obama joked. The flowers in the background of Obama’s portrait represent parts of Obama’s life, Wiley said. The chrysanthemums are a reference to the official flower of Chicago; the jasmine “evokes” Hawaii.
Wiley and Sherald are the first African-Americans to be commissioned by the gallery to paint official portraits.
The gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, has the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House.
Obama’s portrait will be installed in the “America’s Presidents” gallery and Mrs. Obama’s picture will be on display in another part of the museum.
The National Gallery began commissioning presidential portraits in 1994, starting with President George H.W. Bush. The initial first lady commission was in 2006 with Hillary Clinton.
See photos below: