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Obamas’ Official Portraits Unveiled Done by Black Artist

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Brand new portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama — wearing matching calm, strong expressions — were revealed on Monday at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Kehinde Wiley painted Barack Obama sitting in a chair, elbows on his knees, leaning forward with an intense expression. The background, typical of a Wiley painting, is a riotous pattern of intense green foliage.

“Pretty sharp,” Obama said with a grin.

Amy Sherald, a Baltimore-based artist, painted Michelle Obama sitting in a floor-length gown, chin on her hand, looking directly at the viewer with a calm, level gaze.

The paintings, like the presidency they honor, are a historic first. Wiley and Sherald — both already famous for their portraits of black Americans — are the first black painters to receive a presidential portrait commission from the museum.

Celebrities from Shonda Rhimes to Steven Spielberg, former administration officials from Josh Earnest to Eric Holder, and members of the media filed into the Portrait Gallery’s expansive, glass-covered central courtyard for the ceremony. Kim Sajet, the director of the gallery, told the audience that a portrait was not truly finished until a viewer, a member of the public, had a personal encounter with it.

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