The Obamas were invited to the White House to unveil their presidential portraits after not being welcomed to view them during the previous presidential administrations’ residency.
The ceremony, which occurred Sept. 7 in the East Room of the White House, was hosted by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. The portraits were developed in 2018 but not revealed because the Trump administration refused to host the Obamas during its residence, according to reports from Business Insider. Former President Obama explained the significance of their portraits and their legacy in the White House.
“As far as I can tell, no one in my family tree had ever sat for a portrait before – I certainly had not. And now all of a sudden we’ve done it twice, but these portraits have a special significance because as [President Biden] mentioned – they will hang in the White House alongside portraits of other Presidents and First Ladies,” he said.
Robert McCurdy, a renowned artist known for his realist paintings of Toni Morrison, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and now President Barack Obama, crafted the portrait to display the depth of the former president’s eyes. McCurdy was inspired by his minimalist background and developed the painting in 18 months, stressing that realism shapes his artistry.
“The subject ultimately was this idea of the gaze, two people looking directly at each other with nothing else there to load the narrative,” McCurdy said.
He then notes that the most important aspect of the portrait is the audience and the goal of people viewing the painting to connect with the central figure.
“The way the painting is constructed is entirely about the viewer. The goal is to have it out there for people to engage. Couldn’t be happier to have been able to do that,” McCurdy explained to the Obama Foundation in a documentary.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait was painted by Sharon Sprung, an American artist and professor at the Art Students League of New York, who took nine months to craft and perfect the portrait. She detailed her painting to incite curiosity and engagement from the viewer, which guided her artistry.
“I wanted people to pass by the painting and recognize her, or be more curious even about her, or to read more about her, but to get her,” Sprung described to the Obama Foundation in a documentary.
During the ceremony, Mrs. Obama declared the depth of the paintings for family and the possibilities of the vastness within the American dream.
“What we’re looking at today – a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and a daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom – what we are seeing is a reminder that there’s a place for everyone in this country. As Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then, again, it is so important for every young kid doubting themselves to believe that they can too,” Mrs.Obama pronounced.
The White House Historical Association, which displays artifacts of the histories of the White House has not specified whether a tour of the Obama portraits will be available, but the portraits both currently reside in the White House and instills the perceptive legacies of all previous Presidents and First Ladies.
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