There was no ceremony while former President Donald J. Trump was in office, breaking that treaty. The Obama portraits – his by Robert McCurdy and hers by Sharon Sprung – were unveiled by President Biden.
official White House portraits unveiled by their successors in recent years. But during Donald J. Trump’s presidency, this did not happen with respect to portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama.
On Wednesday, President Trump’s Biden officially unveiled portraits of the Obamas in the East Room of the White House.
At the ceremony, which brought many members of his administration back to the White House in what felt like a reunion, Mr. Obama said: “It’s great to be back.”
The paintings were commissioned by the White House Historical Society, and both artists — Robert McCurdy, who painted the former president, and Sharon Sprung, who painted the former first lady — have kept their identities well-kept secret.
Even though these artists may not be well known, they are part of a long tradition of painting former first couples. All past presidents are depicted somewhere on the walls of the White House, although the paintings move around in different rooms.
Mr. Obama praised the artists. “I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence and the fact that she’s comfortable,” he said to cheers. “And I want to thank Robert McCurdy for tackling a much more difficult subject.
At a public unveiling in the East Room, President Biden and his wife, Jill, showed how much they liked the Obamas. “Welcome home!” Mr. Biden told the Obama family in a warm greeting that he had been Mr. Obama’s vice president
Portraits are usually shown for the first time during the next president’s first term. In Mr. Obama’s case, it would have been Mr. Trump. But Mr. Trump was not in charge of organizing the event.
The fact that they broke the traditions showed how much they disliked it. When Mr. Obama was president, he hosted former President George W. Bush to unveil his portrait in 2012.
It is not clear whether Mr. Biden will decide to throw a party for Mr. Trump when the painting is finished. At a news conference Tuesday, White House staffer Karine Jean-Pierre did not answer the question.
“We sent those questions to the White House Historical Society,” she said. “They lead the process of official portraits for both presidents and their spouses.” So that question lies with them.”
The animosity between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump is deep and very public, and the two men could still run against each other in the 2024 election. This makes it unlikely that they would agree to participate in a joyous ceremony to put Trump’s portrait in place in the story.
People often confuse the official White House portraits with those commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and displayed for the first time in 2018. Kehinde Wiley painted President Obama and Amy Sherald painted Mrs. Obama. These pictures have been shown in many parts of the country.
But the White House portraits are their own collection, and they tend to be more realistic oil paintings in the traditional style, like the new ones of the Obamas.
“This is a new addition to the history of the White House,” said Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Society. “These portraits are now invited into this gallery.
Each artist was chosen by the Obamas.
Mr. McCurdy, 60, is known for his celebrity portraits that look so real they could almost be mistaken for photographs.
After receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an art fellowship from Yale University, Mr. McCurdy continues to paint the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Toni Morrison, as well as Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, and Muhammad Ali.
Mr McCurdy used his usual method to paint Mr Obama, who he said was someone he had always wanted to paint. He took about 100 carefully lit photos of Mr. Obama and then processed them to make his painting.
“That’s the speech everyone gets when they sit in front of me,” he said in an interview for the Mr. McLaurin, at the association. “Looking directly into the lens. Not to smile. Not a gesture. And just hold on for a moment.
“We’re trying to stretch time rather than slice it like a photograph,” he continued. “We are not looking for a moment of gesture. We’re looking for a more meditative or transcendent moment.”
Mr Obama said Mr McCurdy’s pragmatic approach had appealed to him.
“Presidents get lost so often, they even take on a legendary status, especially after you’re gone and people forget all the things they didn’t like about you,” he said. “But what you realize when you sit behind the desk — and what I want people to remember about me and Michelle — is that presidents and first ladies are human beings just like everybody else.
Ms. Sprung, 69, of Glen Cove, NY, attended school at the Art Students League, where she now teaches. She has painted portraits of everyone from members of parliament to school principals to famous people from history.
Ms. Sprung told McLaurin about her first meeting with the Obamas in the Oval Office during her interview with him.
“I went to sit on this couch and I’m much shorter than either Obama,” she said. “I just kept sinking into this couch and thought, Oh, this is not good, I hope they see me.
Ms. Sprung said she suggested Mrs. Obama sit instead of stand, in part so the former first lady could be at the artist’s eye level. “I intended to stand in it to give it a certain dignity,” said Mrs. Sprung. said. “But she doesn’t need dignity. She has so much dignity that I decided to do it sitting down.”
Mrs Obama – who drew laughter when she thanked her husband for making “such strong comments” – spoke of the symbolism of the moment.
“A girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison,” she said. “She was never supposed to live in this house and she certainly wasn’t supposed to serve as first lady.”
“But what we’re looking at today — a picture of a bisexual kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom — what we’re seeing is a reminder that there is a place for everyone in this country,” she said. “Because, as Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the world’s most famous address, then again it’s so important for any young child who doubts themselves to believe that they can too.” That’s what this country is all about.”
Usually, it would not be difficult for the artists to keep their work a secret. But this particular six-year delay was particularly challenging. Mr McCurdy told Mr McLaurin, “It was definitely new.”
Mr. McLaurin said it was unusual for White House portraits not to have props or other objects in the background, which is what Mr. McCurdy of Obama has. Mr McCurdy said he did this on purpose and that he spends 12 to 18 months on each film.
“We are here to create an encounter between the viewer and the inhabitant,” he told Mr. McLaurin. “The viewer will bring an emotional and historical package to that moment, and it will be different for everyone.
According to Mrs. Obama, the day is less about her and Mr. Obama than about the paintings. “It’s about telling that fuller story,” she said. “A story that includes every single American.”
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