WASHINGTON (AP) — It has been more than a decade since President barack obama and his wife, Michelle, hosted George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, for the unveiling of their White House portraits, part of a beloved Washington tradition that for decades has managed to transcend partisan politics.
President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are set to revive that ritual — after an awkward and unnatural hiatus in the Trump years — when they host the Obamas on Wednesday for the grand reveal of their portraits in front of dozens of friends, family and staff.
Obama’s paintings will be unlike any in the White House Portrait Collection to which they will be added. They were the first black president and first lady of the United States.
The ceremony will also mark Michelle Obama’s first visit to the White House since the end of Obama’s presidency in January 2017, and only Barack Obama’s second visit. He was at the White House in April to mark the 12th anniversary of the Health Act he signed in 2010.
Portrait ceremonies often give past presidents a chance to show off their comedic timing.
“I’m glad my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection. It starts and ends now with a George W,” Bush joked at his ceremony in 2012.
Bill Clinton joked in 2004 that “most of the time, until your picture hangs like this, the only artists drawing you are cartoonists.”
Recent tradition, regardless of party affiliation, is for the current president to warmly welcome his immediate predecessor to the unveiling – as Clinton did for George HW Bush, George W. Bush did for Clinton and Obama. did it for young Bush.
Then there was an unexplained pause when donald trump did not welcome Obama.
Two Trump spokespersons did not respond to emailed requests for comment on the lack of a ceremony for Obama and whether artists are working on portraits of Trump and former first lady Melania. Trump.
The White House portrait collection begins with George Washington, America’s first president. Congress bought his portrait.
Other portraits of early presidents and first ladies often came to the White House as gifts. Since the middle of the last century, the White House Historical Association has paid for the paintings.
The first portraits funded by the association were those of Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, and John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy, said Stewart McLaurin, president of the private nonprofit created by first lady Kennedy.
Before presidents and first ladies leave office, the association explains the portrait process. The former president and first lady choose the artist or artists and offer advice on how they want to be portrayed.
“It really involves how this president and this first lady view each other,” McLaurin said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The collection includes an iconic full-length portrait of Washington that adorns the East Room. It is the only item still in the White House that was in the Executive Mansion in November 1800 when John Adams and Abigail Adams became the first president and first lady to live in the White House.
Years later, First Lady Dolley Madison saved Gilbert Stuart’s Washington portrait from near certain ruin. She asked White House staff to get it out of town before British forces burned the mansion in 1814. The painting was stored until the White House was rebuilt.
Portraits of the president and first lady are seen by millions of visitors to the White House, although not all are on display. Some are being preserved or are in storage.
Those on display line the hallways and rooms of the mansion’s public spaces, such as the ground floor and its Vermeil and China Rooms, and the State Floor one level above, which includes the famous Green Rooms. , blue and red, the East Room and State Dining Room.
Portraits of Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, Lady Bird Johnson and Lou Henry Hoover adorn the Vermeil Room, along with a full-length image of Jacqueline Kennedy. Michelle Obama’s portrait will likely join Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush in the downstairs hallway.
The State Floor hallway one floor above features recent presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush. The portrait of Gerald Ford and the likeness of Richard Nixon – the only president to resign from office – are displayed on the grand staircase leading to the private living quarters on the second floor.
Images of former presidents move around the White House, depending on their position with the current occupants. Ronald Reagan, for example, knocked Thomas Jefferson and Harry S. Truman out of the cabinet room and traded in Dwight Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge.
Under the Clinton era, portraits of Richard Nixon and Reagan, idols of the Republican Party, lost their place in the Grand Foyer and were replaced by images of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Truman, heroes of the Democrats. Nancy Reagan temporarily moved Eleanor Roosevelt to a prominent place in the East Room in 1984 to mark the centennial of her birth.
One of the most important places for a portrait is above the mantle in the State Dining Room and it was occupied for decades by a painting of Abraham Lincoln seated with his hand supporting his chin. It was placed there by Franklin Roosevelt.
Portraits of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush hang on opposite walls in the Grand Foyer.
Clinton would be out of place to make way for Barack Obama if the White House stuck to tradition and kept the last two occupants of the Oval Office there, McLaurin said.
“It’s up to the White House, to the conservatives,” he said.
The association, which is funded by private donations and the sale of books and an annual Christmas decoration from the White House, keeps the price of the portrait well below market value because of the “extraordinary honor” it an artist derives from having “his artwork hanging perpetually in the White House,” McLaurin said.
Details about the Obamas’ portraits will remain secret until Wednesday.
Biden will be the rare president to host a former boss for the unveiling; he was Obama’s vice president. George HW Bush, who held the Ronald Reagan ceremony, was Reagan’s number two.
Betty Monkman, a former White House curator, said on a 2017 podcast for the White House Historical Association that the ceremony was a “statement of generosity” from the president and first lady. “It’s a very warm and pleasant moment.”
The White House portraits are one of two sets of portraits of presidents and first ladies. The National Portrait Gallery, a Smithsonian museum, maintains its own collection and these portraits are unveiled in front of the White House couple. The The Obamas unveiled their museum portraits in February 2018.
Linda St. Thomas, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, said in an email that a $650,000 donation in July from Save America, Trump’s political action committee, was for portraits of the couple at the museum. Two artists were commissioned, one for each painting, and work has begun, St. Thomas said.
Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.