Former President Barack Obama finally got to experience one of the most important rites of passage for former leaders of the United States: the unveiling of his official portrait. The popular Democratic president and his wife, former First Lady Michelle Obama, both were on hand at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. to see artistic renderings of themselves put on display for the first time.
The history of official presidential portraits is fascinating, dating back to George Washington. Commissioning an artful painting of a nation’s leader that is intended to endure over time is a tradition that the United States adopted from European countries. Each president has an official portrait. Companion renderings of first ladies became part of the tradition in the early 20th century.
The release of the new paintings of the Obamas is likely to energize liberals and supporters of the Democratic Party despite the fact that they are out of power. With Republican Donald Trump occupying the White House, and both houses of Congress having Republican majorities, there is little excitement among Democrats these days.
President Obama finished his eight years in office with a relatively high approval rating overall, but he had extremely strong support among Democrats and liberals. While the 2018 midterm election look promising for the Democratic Party, without a clear individual leader the party still in some ways views Obama as its most important member.
Kehinde Wiley painted the portrait of the former president, while Amy Sherald handled Michelle Obama’s.
President Obama’s portrait is colorful and unique, depicting him sitting in a wooden chair surrounded by green foliage. Meanwhile, the painting of the former first lady shows her seated and serious, sitting down wearing a flowing, modern dress against a blue backdrop.
These latest additions to the National Portrait Gallery will no doubt inspire Democrats and other Americans from all across the country to visit the museum to get a chance to admire these works of art.