It's been just over a year since the Obama family officially moved out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and we've been painfully reminded of how much we miss them every day since. But on Monday, right on schedule, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery unveiled its official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama that will soon be permanently installed in its "America's Presidents" exhibition.
For the occasion, a rite of passage for any former President and First Lady, the Obamas hand-picked Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, for their renditions, both of whom have now made history as the first Black painters to receive a presidential portrait commission from the Smithsonian. Both Wiley and Sherald, renowned for their portraits of Black Americans, were reportedly selected by the Obamas after reviewing the portfolios of more than two dozen artists.
The Baltimore-based Sherald, whose brightly-colored portraiture often features subjects in social contexts, painted Mrs. Obama in a custom gown from New York-based brand Milly — in line with her years-long support of American design talent — that was "loosely based" on a dress from the designer's Spring 2017 collection, pictured below. Per a release, the dress was created by Milly Co-Founder and Creative Director Michelle Smith specifically for this occasion and made right here in New York.
In a speech following the reveal, Mrs. Obama remarked that she was "a little overwhelmed, to say the least," adding: "I'm also thinking of all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who ... will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls."
President Obama's portrait was revealed next: By New York portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, the image shows the former President sitting in a chair against a lush, ivy-covered background, per Wiley's trademark naturalistic style, with his arms crossed. The former President noted that he was most drawn to Wiley's representations due to how they "challenge our conventional views of power and privilege."
Come back, Barack (and Michelle).