The White House Historical Association unveiled its official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday, marking the occasion with speeches from the couple and from President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden.
The former president’s photorealistic portrait, by Robert McCurdy, and the former first lady’s brightly hued portrait, by Sharon Sprung, will hang in the White House alongside portraits of all the first families who came before them.
“What we are looking at today ― a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and stay-at-home mom ― what we are seeing is a reminder there is a place for everyone in this country,” Michelle Obama reflected.
“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,” she continued.
Barack Obama praised McCurdy for painting a portrait of him that honestly portrays who he is, “for better or worse.”
“His work is so precise that at first glance it looks like a photograph,” the former president said. “And Robert also paints his subjects looking straight ahead, so it feels like you’re face-to-face, forming a connection.”
“That appealed to me, in part, because presidents so often get airbrushed, even take on a mythical status, especially after you’ve gone and people forget all the stuff they didn’t like about you,” he went on.
Barack joked that Roberts talked him out of wearing a tan suit, a nod to his most viral wardrobe choice from 2014. He also gushed over his wife’s portrait.
“I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence and the fact that she’s fine,” he said.
The unveiling has been a long time coming. Though the portraits have been finished for years, former President Donald Trump shirked tradition and never gave his approval for the unveiling ceremony, rejecting a convention that presidents of opposing parties have participated in for decades.
That includes Obama, who hosted former President George W. Bush for his own portrait unveiling in 2012. “We may have our differences politically, but the presidency transcends those differences,” Obama said at that event.
There was no mention of Trump or the snub at Wednesday’s ceremony, where the Obamas and Bidens dedicated much of their remarks to reminiscing on their shared time in the White House from 2008 to 2016.
“You’re always there,” President Biden said to Barack Obama before introducing him. “I remember how you were with me when our son was passing, and I remember the eulogy you gave on his behalf. You’ll never fully understand how much it meant to [Jill Biden] and me and the entire family.”
The portraits unveiled Wednesday are separate from the ones commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery, which unveiled its paintings of the Obamas in 2018.