Second Set of Official Obama Portraits Are Unveiled After 4-Year Delay

Five years after they left office, former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House for a special unveiling of their new official portraits. Their first pair of portraits—created by artists Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley—were revealed in 2018 and will eventually join the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. after completing their tour. The second set of portraits, on the other hand, will be put on permanent display at the White House. To celebrate this special occasion, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed the Obamas back to the White House in a special unveiling held in the East Room on September 7, 2022.

This significant event was actually delayed by four years. Normally, in the tradition of presidential portraits, the first set is unveiled while the president is still in office, while the second set is unveiled by the successor in their first term. However, former President Donald Trump did not follow this custom, so the belated ceremony was held instead by President Joe Biden. Although the paintings have presumably been completed for years now, the portraits and the identity of the artists who created them, have been kept secret until this special event. Both Barack and Michelle Obama chose the artist of their official portrait: Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively.

In contrast with the first set of portraits, these newer paintings are more formal in nature, which is in keeping with the tradition of the works displayed in the White House. American artist Robert McCurdy is well known for his hyperrealistic portraits—capturing the likeness of important figures like the Dalai Lama, Toni Morrison, and Jeff Bezos—and chose to depict Barack Obama in the same detailed manner. In fact, it is hard to tell that the oil-rendered piece is not actually a photograph at first glance. Comparatively, Sharon Sprung's portrait of Michelle Obama, though still realistic in style, is more expressive. It features the former First Lady in an opalescent blue gown, sitting on an embroidered red couch and staring directly at the viewer.

When the Obamas lifted the blue curtains covering their portraits, the audience immediately burst into applause. Later, the former President gave a few words about the significance of these two historic pieces. “I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she’s fine,” Obama said. “And I want to thank Robert McCurdy for taking on a much more difficult subject.” It is no surprise that McCurdy's depiction of Barack Obama required 18 months to complete due to the high level of detail required. “Presidents so often get airbrushed, they even take on a mythical status, especially after you’ve gone and people forget all the stuff they didn’t like about you,” he continued. “But what you realize when you’re sitting behind that desk—and what I want people to remember about Michelle and me—is that presidents and first ladies are human beings like everyone else.”

The newest portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled on September 7, 2022.

The second set of portraits will hang in the White House, while the other two paintings (made by Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley) will go to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Barack Obama's new portrait was made by Robert McCurdy and Michelle Obama's portrait was created by Sharon Sprung.

Robert McCurdy: Website 
Sharon Sprung: Website | Facebook 
h/t: [The New York Times]

Related Articles:

These Are the History-Making Official Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama

Meet the Artists Painting the Obamas’ Post-Presidential Portraits

Why Kehinde Wiley Creates Exquisite Portraits of Black Men Inspired by Old Masters Painting

Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. When she’s not writing, Margherita continues to develop her creative practice in sequential art.
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