Barack Obama Describes Story Behind Official Portraits Of Former First Couple
By Mikelle Leow, 13 Feb 2018
Video screenshot via Smithsonian
On Monday, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery revealed the official portraits of the former First Couple.
Normally, presidential portrait ceremonies would go largely unnoticed, but this unveiling marked a historic moment—not only did the artworks depict the first African-American presidential couple, but they were also painted by African-American artists.
Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald were commissioned to paint the portraits of the former President and First Lady respectively.
Barack Obama’s likeness shows him sitting on a brown chair against a lush backdrop of green leaves and vibrant colors. Michelle Obama’s portrait depicts her in a long white dress with geometric shapes; she sits with one hand under her chin and another on a lap.
The 44th US President was visibly pleased with the final results, though he joked that his wife’s painting was better.
“I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love,” Obama told Sherald.
The former President then described that Wiley had a competitive disadvantage because Obama’s appearance was “less becoming.”
“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.”
The paintings have been widely complimented by the general public, though a few were underwhelmed.
New York Times art critic Holland Cotter was impressed with Barack Obama’s likeness, but wished Michelle Obama’s painter would put more focus on the former First Lady, rather than dress.
“I was anticipating—hoping for—a bolder, more incisive image of the strong-voiced person I imagine this former first lady to be,” Cotter critiqued.
Michelle Obama, on the other hand, was content with the way her image was portrayed, saying that it would make an impression on young African-American girls. “They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution.”
The paintings have, unsurprisingly, become internet memes overnight. Some social media users attempted to gauge how President Donald Trump would react if he saw his predecessor’s portrait, while others caricatured the abundance of leaves in Wiley’s portrayal.
View the official portraits below, as well as some reactions from the internet.
come back pic.twitter.com/R3SZ7Pmdf5— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 12, 2018
Barack Obama's portrait, to be unveiled here in a minute, is by Kehinde Wiley. Here's some of Wiley's other work. pic.twitter.com/iZkHR3aNCE— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) February 12, 2018
Sherald's other work is just straight-up gorgeous, too. pic.twitter.com/yJjpfXp4f6— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) February 12, 2018
[via Reuters, images via various sources]
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