Washington – Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday for the official unveiling of their official White House portraits, revealing the paintings that will hang in the White House for years to come .
President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden hosted the couple in what marked Michelle Obama’s first visit to the White House since her husband left office in 2017. The former president visited the White House in April for a celebration of the anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
“Barack and Michelle, welcome home,” Biden told the Obamas on Wednesday. “Welcome to the house.”
“It’s great to be back,” Obama said after the unveiling of their portraits. “Thank you so much for your hospitality. Thank you for allowing us to invite some friends to the White House. We will try not to tear the place apart.”
Mr Biden praised his former boss, telling him that “nothing could have prepared me better or more to become President of the United States than to be at your side for eight years, and I say that from bottom of my heart”.
Artist Robert McCurdy painted the former president and Sharon Sprung painted the former first lady.
“I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence and the fact that she’s doing well,” Obama said, drawing laughter and cheers from the audience. “And I want to thank Robert McCurdy for taking on a much tougher subject and doing a fantastic job with mine.”
The portrait of the former president depicts him in a black suit with a gray tie, in the artist’s signature photorealistic style. Mrs. Obama’s portrait shows her in a blue dress, sitting on a red sofa in the Red Room. His portrait is also entirely inspired by the photos taken by Sprung.
“To me, this day isn’t just about what happened,” Mrs. Obama said. “It’s also about what might happen. Because a girl like me, she was never meant to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never meant to live in that house, and she certainly wasn’t supposed to serve as first lady.”
In a video published by the Obama Foundation ahead of the unveiling, McCurdy said the “marathon” process took her about 18 months, while Sprung said she only worked on Michelle Obama’s portrait for eight or nine months . Both said they had the viewer in mind when painting.
“I wanted people to walk past the painting and recognize her, or even be more curious about her or learn more about her, but to have her,” Sprung said in a video about the process.
“How the painting is constructed is entirely about the viewer,” McCurdy said.
Sprung described how painting is a journey.
“I don’t know how my paintings are going to turn out,” Sprung said. “You just follow your sentiment all the time, and I have enough confidence in myself as a painter to do that.”
Presidents usually host their predecessors to unveil their official portraits, but former President Trump upended that tradition, refusing to host the Obamas at the White House during his tenure. The Obamas welcomed former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura to the White House in 2012.
Former presidents and first ladies usually have two official portraits completed after leaving office. One set hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, while the other enters the collection of the White House Historical Association for display at the White House. The National Portrait Gallery’s portraits of the Obamas were completed in 2018.