Smithsonian Announces Artists For Obamas’ Portraits: See Their Work

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The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery on Friday announced the two artists commissioned to paint the gallery’s official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama.

The former President, the Smithsonian said, selected Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait. And Michelle Obama chose the painter Amy Sherald.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the pair are the first black artists hired by the gallery to paint portraits of the President and first lady. The publication noted that, far from being lesser-known names in the art world, as is often the case with presidential portrait painters, both Wiley and Sherald have “major followings.”

The gallery’s director, Kim Sajet, noted in a statement Friday: “Both [Wiley and Sherald] have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

Wiley, according to the Smithsonian’s press release, “has frequently portrayed young African American men wearing the latest in hip-hop street fashion.”

“His rich, highly saturated color palette and his use of decorative patterns complement his realistic, yet expressive, likenesses,” it continued. “The theatrical poses and props Wiley assigns to his subjects make references to iconic portraits of powerful figures by Western artists.”

On Inauguration Day for President Donald Trump, Wiley posted an image of himself with President Obama in the Oval Office:

Thank you Mr. President.

A post shared by Kehinde Wiley (@kehindewiley) on

The National Portrait Gallery said that Sherald “challenges stereotypes and probes notions of identity through her life-size paintings of African Americans.”

It noted that her oil painting, “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance),” had won the portrait gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. (See a profile of the winning painting below, featuring an interview with Sherald).


See examples of Wiley’s work below:

LL Cool J by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2005. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; on loan from LL Cool J © Kehinde Wiley

Voters line-up to cast their ballot in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)A long line of voters moves slowly past a painting by Kehinde Wiley at a polling site in the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Triple portrait of Charles 1, oil and enamel on three canvases by Kehinde Wiley at “Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture” at the National Portrait Gallery Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)


See examples of Sherald’s work below:

Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) by Amy Sherald, oil on canvas, 2013. Frances and Burton Reifler © Amy Sherald

The Make Believer (Monet’s Garden) by Amy Sherald, 2016, Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 inches. Private Collection, Chicago. Image courtesy the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

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Notable Replies

  1. Doesn’t matter. Trump will come along and erase it.,

  2. Oh - I saw a retrospective of Wiley’s work in Seattle – FANTASTIC choice!

  3. Way cool. Can’t wait to see them.

  4. Avatar for ghost ghost says:

    Compare and contrast portraits of past Presidents and First Ladies with these. Coolness factor off the charts.

    The Bannonites are going to lose it over this, but Donny can pick out a nice alt-right artist to do his and Melania’s portraits, someone who was able to draw the turtle from the matchbook cover

  5. Its so weird that less than a year ago, we still had Obama as our president and were looking forward to a continuation of his policies in a Clinton administration. We still had hope for a better country and world. We had the assurance of healthcare and were’t living under the siege of a mad man lighting a match to the world. The choice of these artists is symbolic of that optimistic vision that is slipping away and in a way, it makes these anticipated works of art already bittersweet.

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