Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits were unveiled at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Monday, February 12, and we are loving them. The 44th president of the United States and the former first lady were on hand to give the public a first look at the pieces, which are now a part of our country’s history.
For the honor of creating his likeness, Barack Obama chose Kehinde Wiley, a Yale University-trained painter who has made his name creating regal images of African-Americans posed in the style of Old Master paintings that incorporate gorgeous elements of color.
Obama’s portrait shows the former POTUS wearing a suit (but no tie) and sitting in a chair with his arms crossed across his lap, against a striking backdrop of leaves and flowers behind him. “How about that? That’s pretty sharp,” Obama said when the image was revealed.
According to CNN, Wiley is the first African-American artist to paint an official presidential portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. (Another Black artist, Simmie Knox, painted presidential portraits of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but those were displayed in the White House.)
Obama explained his reason for choosing Wiley at Monday’s unveiling, saying, “What I was always struck by when I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege.”
Michelle Obama gave the honor of creating her portrait to Amy Sherald, an African-American artist from Baltimore who is known for incorporating themes of social justice into her paintings. Her work is recognizable for featuring strong shapes and gray tones.
The former first lady spoke directly to the artist during the unveiling, saying, “Girls of color… will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution. … And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”
Her husband added, “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.”
Both pieces will be open to public viewing on Tuesday, with Barack Obama’s portrait set to be added to the hall of presidents and Michelle Obama’s displayed in another Smithsonian gallery.
What do you think about Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits? Let us know @BritandCo!
(photos via Mark Wilson/Getty Images)