Barack Obama and Michelle Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of their official portraits.
Robert McCurdy painted the portrait of the former president, dressed in black suit and gray tie against a white background, and Sharon Sprung of the former first lady, wearing a formal blue dress and is seated on a sofa in the Red Room.
At a ceremony in the East Room, covered by major cable news networks, President Joe Biden said that Obama will be “one of the most consequential presidents in history.”The unveiling also marked the first time that the Obamas together returned to the White House since 2017. Barack Obama returned in March for a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.
The portraits are different from those unveiled in 2018 at the National Portrait Gallery. Those works, from Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, are currently on a national tour in major cities and will return to the Smithsonian gallery’s permanent collection this fall.
The former president said, “When future generations walk these halls and look up at these portraits, I hope that they get a better, honest sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope that they leave with a deeper understanding that if we could make it here, maybe they can too.”
The unveiling on Wednesday was the first since 2012, when the Obamas hosted George W. Bush and Laura Bush. Notably, Donald Trump did not host the Obamas during his presidency, breaking with tradition.
In her remarks, Michelle Obama indirectly referred to Trump. “Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions, but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy.” She noted that the tradition has been for presidents to depart the White House in a peaceful transition of power and “once our time is up, we move on, and all that remains in this hallowed place are out good efforts and these portraits.”
She then talked about how unlikely it was that she and her husband became occupants of the White House, given their backgrounds.
“What we are seeing is a reminder that there is a place for everyone in this country,” the former first lady said. “Because as Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then … it is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves to believe that they can too. That is what this country is about. It’s not about blood or pedigree or wealth.”
The portraits are funded by the White House Historical Association, which oversees the process with input from the subjects. They will hang in the White House as part of the collection.
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