Former President Barack Obama and Former First Lady Michelle Obama returned to the presidential mansion on Wednesday (Sept. 7) afternoon to unveil their official White House portraits.
According to CNN, President Obama’s image was painted by Robert McCurdy, and Sharon Sprung painted Mrs. Obama’s portrait. In an interview, McCurdy told the White House Historical Association that his process focused on working off of a photograph of the former president. “We’re not looking for a gestural moment,” McCurdy said. “We’re looking for a more meditative or transcendent moment.” McCurdy painted a photorealistic image of the former president in a black suit with a grey tie and an American flag pin. The artist revealed that his paintings take at least a year to complete.
President Obama complimented the portrait during the ceremony, stating how it appealed to him. “What I love about Robert’s work is that he paints people exactly the way they are, for better or worse. He captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt,” Obama joked. “You’ll note that he refused to hide any of my gray hairs—refused my request to make my ears smaller. He also talked me out of wearing a tan suit, by the way.”
Continuing, he said, “That appealed to me, in part because 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.”
According to New York-based artist Sprung, she was confident she would portray Mrs. Obama in the best possible light. “I felt this trust come from her, that you do your thing, I do my thing, I’m going to trust you with your thing, and I think portraiture works better sometimes like that. That she didn’t contribute that much other than present herself,” she said.
The portrait of the former first lady shows her in a powder blue, off-the-shoulder gown designed by Jason Wu, posing against the backdrop of a terracotta sofa from the White House Red Room. Mrs. Obama also shared her captivation with her portrait: “Your work is phenomenal, but it was your essence, your soul, the way you saw me, the way we interacted, and it shows in this beautiful work,” she expressed.
President Obama also shared his admiration for his wife’s painting, saying, “I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle. Her grace, her intelligence — and the fact that she’s fine.”
You can see clips from the unveiling and photos of the official White House portraits below: