Barack and Michelle Obama's Official White House Portraits Are Unveiled — See the Photos!

·4 min read
Barack and Michelle Obama's Official White House Portraits Are Unveiled — See the Photos!

The Obamas returned to the presidential residence Wednesday for a ceremony to unveil their official White House portraits, more than five years after moving out of the president's mansion.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed friends Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to their former home, where the White House Historical Association presented paintings by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung.

Barack's portrait follows in the style of McCurdy's other works, featuring a stark white background that encourages viewers to focus exclusively on the subject. Wearing a black suit, gray tie and American flag pin, the former president posed for photographs that were then used as a reference for the hyper-realistic portrait.

"What I love about Robert's work is that he paints people exactly the way they are, for better or worse," Barack told a lively crowd after the unveiling. "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."

Michelle's portrait is as personality driven as she is, featuring bright colors that Sprung created with the handmade paints she's known to use. Like Barack's, the portrait was painted based on reference photos taken in various areas of the White House. The final product shows Michelle seated on a sofa in the Red Room, wearing a bright blue dress with an off-the-shoulder sleeve that proudly exposes her famed arms.

RELATED: A Look Back at Our All-Time Favorite First Lady Portraits Hung in the White House

"I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle," Barack said. "Her grace, her intelligence — and the fact that she's fine."

Barack and Michelle Obama presidential portraits
Barack and Michelle Obama presidential portraits

White House Collection/White House Historical Association Barack and Michelle Obama's official White House portraits

Set on easels, the Obamas' portraits were revealed in the East Room of the White House, where the unveiling ceremony was held. Within a few days, the paintings will be hung on the walls in places selected by White House curators.

Traditionally, the two most recent presidential portraits end up in the Entrance Hall, but it's not a hard-and-fast rule. The first ladies' portraits generally hang on the floor below. Regardless of the locations selected for their portraits, both Obamas' paintings will permanently have a home somewhere inside the White House.

The identities of the artists chosen to paint the Obamas were kept secret until Wednesday's unveiling ceremony, upholding a long-standing tradition that allows the artists to complete their work, which may include rounds of revisions, without the pressure of a deadline or the spotlight that comes with the coveted honor.

Former President Barack Obama kisses his wife former first lady Michelle Obama after they unveiled their official White House portraits during a ceremony for the unveiling in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Washington.
Former President Barack Obama kisses his wife former first lady Michelle Obama after they unveiled their official White House portraits during a ceremony for the unveiling in the East Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Washington.

Andrew Harnik/AP

"We don't put a timeframe on it. We don't call the artist and say, 'How's it going? How are you doing? When are you going to have it done?'" Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association, told PEOPLE in July. "It just is an organic process that has to take its course. And then when everything's ready and everything's done, the moment is right."

RELATED: What to Know About the Artists Who Painted Barack and Michelle Obama's Official White House Portraits

Portraits of Donald and Melania Trump are already in the works, McLaurin also confirmed in July.

The last unveiling of official White House portraits took place a decade ago, in 2012, when former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush were welcomed back to the iconic presidential home for the reveal of two paintings by John Howard Sanden.

"Every president is acutely aware that we are just temporary residents. We're renters here. We're charged with the upkeep until our lease runs out," President Obama said at the Bushes' ceremony. "But we also leave a piece of ourselves in this place, and today, with the unveiling of the portraits next to me, President and Mrs. Bush will take their place alongside the men and women who built this country and those who worked to perfect it."

Former US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stand before their portraits and respective artists, Kehinde Wiley (L) and Amy Sherald (R), after an unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, February 12, 2018
Former US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stand before their portraits and respective artists, Kehinde Wiley (L) and Amy Sherald (R), after an unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, February 12, 2018

SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty From left, center: Barack and Michelle Obama in 2018 after an unveiling of their official portraits

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The official White House portraits are separate from the internet-breaking National Portrait Gallery paintings that the Obamas revealed in 2018.

Those paintings, by Nigerian-American Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, went on a tour that began last year and was extended into October.