On Monday, portraits of former President and former First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.
The Obamas’ hand-selected Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, both African-American artists, to paint their portraits. Wiley and Sherald break boundaries as the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
Barack Obama’s portrait done by Wiley, displays the 44th President sitting down in a chair behind a meaningful green floral background. The chrysanthemums in the portrait represent the official flower of the Obamas’ hometown of Chicago; Jasmine for Obama’s birth state of Hawaii; and African Blue Lilies in honor his late Kenyan father.
Michelle Obama’s portrait done by Sherald, is a grayscale painting of the former First Lady perched behind a blue background, wearing a white floor-length gown with splashes of color.
At the unveiling ceremony, Mr. Obama recalled working with Wiley “a great joy,” and told Sherald after seeing his wife’s portrait,
“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.”
Mrs. Obama also chimed in with a heartfelt message,
“I’m also thinking about all of 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.”
Viewing of the portraits will be open to the public on Tuesday, February 13.
Today, @KehindeWiley and @ASherald became the first black artists to create official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian. To call this experience humbling would be an understatement. Thanks to Kehinde and Amy, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. They’ll walk out of that museum with a better sense of the America we all love. Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Inclusive and optimistic. And I hope they’ll walk out more empowered to go and change their worlds.
As a young girl, even in my wildest dreams, I never could have imagined this moment. Nobody in my family has ever had a portrait – there are no portraits of the Robinsons or the Shields from the South Side of Chicago. This is all a little bit overwhelming, especially when I think about all of the young people who will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this, including so many young girls and young girls of color who don’t often see their images displayed in beautiful and iconic ways. I am so proud to help make that kind of history. But the fact is that none of this would be possible without the extraordinary artist and woman behind this portrait, @asherald. Thank you, Amy – it was a joy to work with you and get to know you.