In an emotional event held at the White House on Wednesday, former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama revealed their official White House portraits. A Washington practice that was last performed ten years ago was revived during their first joint visit to the building since they left in 2017.
In contrast to other US presidents and their spouses, the first Black President and First Lady are depicted in the history-making portraits of the Obamas that are displayed on the White House walls through the perspectives of contemporary artists who work outside many of the conventions of traditional political portraiture.
Robert McCurdy painted the president’s portrait, while Sharon Sprung painted Michelle Obama’s.
McCurdy revealed that his creative approach was centered around finding inspiration from a picture of the previous President in an interview with the White House Historical Association. The lifelike representation of the former president is painted on a plain white background while donning a black suit and a grey tie, as is typical of McCurdy’s artwork. McCurdy claims that it takes at least a year to complete one of his paintings.
Former President Barack Obama kisses former first lady Michelle Obama at their portrait unveiling on Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
Sprung, who calls her style “modern realism,” painted the former first lady’s painting, which shows Michelle Obama in a blue outfit sitting on a sofa in the Red Room of the White House. The paintings were created from images captured in various spots on the State Floor of the White House.
Return of a long-anticipated White House tradition
In the East Room on Wednesday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hosted a rare celebration of two presidential administrations with a who’s who of current and former administration officials who had the unique perspective of having served in both.
Since George W. Bush and Laura Bush’s bipartisan unveiling ceremony in 2012, these pieces are the first official portraits to be added to the White House Collection. They will remain hung in the White House for many years.
Biden discussed the Obamas’ accomplishments while serving as the country’s first couple in his remarks during the unveiling, saying that they “made history.”
“You two handled it so gracefully and elegantly. You had lofty dreams and achieved long-lasting victories for the American people, lightening their load with a blessing of hope “He went on. “Just having hope is so underrated. This is the gift that the Obama administration has given to the nation and history.”
After a standing ovation for Biden, the former President addressed the crowd in the East Room, saying, “Thanks to your decency and strength — perhaps most importantly, We appreciate your belief in American democracy and the people.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a consideration at the time of the unveiling, according to Stewart McLaurin, president of the WHHA, who spoke with CNN. The WHHA, a nonprofit organisation, is responsible for funding and enabling the pictures.
Covid affected us two and a half years ago, so it’s crucial, in McLaurin’s words, “for these (portraits) to be published at a time when the public does have access to the White House and they can be viewed.”
Although there isn’t a set schedule for when a White House portrait should be unveiled, the immediate successor of a former president has frequently hosted ceremonies. Additionally, President Donald Trump never hosted a ceremony to unveil the Obama portraits while in office.
A progression of art
Artists and art carriers signed confidentiality agreements to keep information under wraps before the big day, keeping information about the items being unveiled on Wednesday a closely guarded secret.
However, the Obamas have regularly utilized art as a means of expressing their preferences, so it should be expected that the same is true of their White House pictures.
McCurdy’s minimalistic photo of the former president forgoes the customary presidential portrait trappings, such as a desk or bookcase, in favour of a background that is empty.
During the opening, the former President remarked that he appreciated how McCurdy “paints people the way they are, for better or worse.”
Obama made a joke about how the photographer “captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt. You’ll see that he refused to disguise any of my grey hairs, declined my request to make my ears smaller, and, by the way, talked me out of wearing a tan suit. His work is so meticulously done that at first glance, it appears to be a photograph.
Obama expressed his hope that through looking at the photos, future generations will “get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were,” although former presidents often acquire a sort of “mythical stature” after leaving office.” And I hope that when they leave, they have a better awareness of the possibility that they might succeed where we did. They can achieve wonderful things, too,” he continued.
According to Sprung’s perspective, the former first lady appeared to take a few minutes to settle within one of the White House’s most formal chambers. Michelle Obama’s photo, unlike those of her predecessors, shows her in a strapless gown, perhaps a sign of the nation’s changing fashion trends.
According to a person acquainted with the details, the former first lady is depicted wearing a couture Jason Wu Collection gown. Obama made a complete circle by choosing Wu as her designer because he had created both of her inaugural outfits. Wu was Obama’s first choice at the time, effectively starting his career as a well-known fashion designer around the world.