Washington, D.C., USA: Former President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, The Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C, today along with the portrait of former First Lady, Michelle Obama – with both parties present. The two paintings will join the “America’s Presidents” exhibition at the Washington gallery as part of its permanent installation, which will be on view for the public beginning on Tuesday.
While artist Kehinde Wiley is typically known for portraying African Americans as “famous figures in Western art,” his portrait of the 56-year-old 44th president “does not include an overt art historical reference,” according to the Smithsonian.
The flowers seen in the background of President Barack Obama’s portrait do have symbolic meanings. The chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, where Obama began his political career. His childhood home of Hawaii is represented through jasmine, and African blue lilies serve as a nod to his late Kenyan-born father, Barack Obama, Sr.
Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald was selected to paint Michelle Obama’s portrait. Sherald’s interpretation of the ex-executive mansion resident features gray skin tones, a hallmark of the majority of her paintings.
Michelle Obama, 54, is seen wearing a dress by fashion designer Michelle Smith’s label, Milly.
The unveiling served as a reunion of sorts for Obama administration veterans including but not limited to:.
former White House press secretary Josh Earnest chatting with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steven Spielberg, who once directed Obama in a spoof of his film, “Lincoln,” for the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner; former Attorney General Eric Holder; former White House press secretary Jay Carney and his wife, journalist Claire Shipman; Obama adviser David Axelrod hugging Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, Tina Tchen; ex-Obama aide Reggie Love; former White House chef Sam Kass and wife, CBS News’s Alex Wagner, smiling and attracting oodles of baby gawkers while holding their six-month-old son, Cy; and longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Michelle Obama on her official portrait: “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”
Kehinde Wiley, the artist who drew President Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait, was born in 1977 in south central Los Angeles to a Nigerian father and African-American mother.
Kehinde Wiley was awarded the 2014 National Medal of Arts, an honor presented by former President Barack Obama himself. It is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the U.S. government.
To this day, Wiley remains one of the most sought-after painters in America.
“He listened very thoughtfully to what I had to say before doing exactly what he always intended to do,” he said. ”I tried to negotiate less grey hair, but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it. I tried to negotiate smaller ears and struck out on that as well.” Obama said of his portrait.