WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Barack Obama joked
about his ears and gray hair and praised his wife Michelle
Obama’s “hotness” at the unveiling of the couple’s official
portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on
The Obamas tapped artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the
paintings, which will be added to the National Portrait Gallery’s
collection of presidential portraits.
Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned
to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.
For his portrait by Wiley, Obama is depicted sitting in a brown
chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colorful
flowers. Michelle Obama’s painting shows her sitting with one
hand under her chin and the other draped across her lap, while
wearing a long flowing dress decorated with geometric shapes.
Obama, who was the first African-American U.S. president,
complimented Sherald for her portrait of Michelle.
“I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and
beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I
love,” Obama said.
He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a
disadvantage because his subject was “less becoming.”
“I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic
integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Obama said. “I
tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”
The Obamas both expressed awe at their portraits, noting that
they were the first people in their families to ever sit for an
Michelle Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact
on young girls of color in the years ahead.
“They will look up and they will see an image of someone who
looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American
institution,” she said. “I know the kind of impact that will have
on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”
The Portrait Gallery’s tradition of commissioning presidential
portraits began with President George H.W. Bush. Other portraits
were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton; Editing by
Kieran Murray and Susan Thomas)