Obama returns to the White House to unveil official portraits. On Wednesday, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House for the first time since they departed in 2017 to witness the unveiling of their official White House portraits, an event that has not been held in Washington in a decade.
The portraits of the Obamas, which hang in the White House, show the first Black President and first lady from the views of contemporary artists who work beyond many of the conventions of traditional political portraiture.
Robert McCurdy painted a portrait of President Obama, and Sharon Sprung painted a likeness of First Lady Michelle Obama.
McCurdy said in an interview with the White House Historical Association that he based his likeness on a photograph of the previous president. Former President Reagan is depicted in photorealism wearing a black suit and grey tie on a stark white background, a style choice that is characteristic of all of McCurdy’s paintings. McCurdy estimates that a year is needed to finish one of his paintings.
Sprung calls her style “modern realism” and she painted the previous first lady. Michelle Obama, wearing a blue outfit, is pictured here lounging on a sofa in the White House’s Red Room. Photographs of various spots on the State Floor of the White House were used as references for the paintings.
The revival of a beloved White House custom.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hosted a rare celebration between two presidential administrations in the East Room. The Bidens, having served in both the Obama and the Clinton administrations, was able to bring together a who’s who of administration officials from both administrations.
These are the first official portraits to be added to the White House Collection since President Obama’s 2012 bipartisan unveiling of portraits of George W. Bush and Laura Bush.
At the unveiling ceremony, Vice President Biden reflected on the Obamas’ time in the White House, noting that they “created history.”
“You gave faith to millions of people who had been neglected for too long, and that’s important. You handled the situation with elegance and sophistication. You blessed the American people with a blessing of hope by dreaming large and securing durable victories “So, he went on. “Just having hope is so underrated. This is the legacy that President Obama leaves behind for the United States and for posterity.”
Then, in the East Room, the former president gave Biden a standing ovation and said, “The country is in better shape now than it was when you took office due to your honesty, strength, and, maybe most of all, your trust in democracy and the American people. Moreover, that’s something for which we should be eternally grateful.”
The president of the WHHA, Stewart McLaurin, told CNN that the timing of the reveal was affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. The WHHA is a charitable organization that helps make these portraits possible and pays for them.
McLaurin explained that the public should be allowed access to the White House so that the portraits can be viewed by the public. “Covid affected us two and a half years ago, and I do think it’s important for these (portraits) to be revealed at a time when the public does have access to the White House,” he said.
While there is no set protocol for who should host the unveiling of a presidential portrait, it is customary for the new president to do so. Moreover, President Trump did not honor the Obama portraits with any sort of ceremony while he was in office.
An artistic development.
Artists and art handlers signed nondisclosure agreements to keep Wednesday’s unveiling a mystery.
It’s no surprise that Obama’s official White House portraits reflect their taste in art, as they’ve done so before.
McCurdy’s portrayal of the former President is spare, with no extraneous elements such as a desk or bookcase cluttering up the otherwise blank background.
At the unveiling, Bush Sr. remarked that he appreciated how McCurdy “paints people the way they are, for better or worse.”
“He is able to capture every fold in your clothes and every frown line on your face. He flat-out refused to make my ears smaller or cover up my grey hairs. Also, he convinced me to forego the tan outfit I had planned on donning “US President Barack Obama made a witty remark. You would think it’s a snapshot of the way his work is so realistic.
Obama said he hoped future generations would see the images and “get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were,” as a contrast to the “mythical stature” some former presidents have achieved since leaving office.
“And I pray they go away knowing that if we made it here, they can, too. They are capable of extraordinary feats as well “he went on to say
As seen through Sprung’s eyes, the former first lady appears to be taking a minute to settle into what is arguably the most formal chamber in the White House. In contrast to her predecessors, Michelle Obama’s photo features her in a strapless gown, which may be indicative of a shift in national fashion.
According to CNN, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the former first lady is wearing a gown from the Jason Wu Collection in the official portrait. Since Wu also created Obama’s first and second inauguration gowns, he is a natural option for the former first lady. Obama’s decision to wear Wu back then was a major turning point in the designer’s rise to international fame.
While Michelle Obama “never could have anticipated” that becoming the first lady would be part of her journey, she acknowledged that “traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these roles, but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy” during the event.
“Too many Americans believe they must conform to societal norms of appearance, behavior, socioeconomic status, and religious belief in order to be accepted. What we are witnessing today, though, is a reminder that there is a place for everyone in this nation; it is a depiction of a biracial child with an uncommon name who is the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom “that’s what Hillary Clinton, the former first lady, said.
“That is the very foundation of our nation. It has nothing to do with lineage, status, or fortune. It’s a level playing field where everyone has an equal chance, “she elaborated
When asked about the Obama pictures, McLaurin said they were “a progression of art” before their unveiling on Wednesday.