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Home POLITICS Biden Reveals Official White House Portraits of the Obamas: NPR

Biden Reveals Official White House Portraits of the Obamas: NPR

President Biden unveiled official White House portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday, reviving a tradition that was shelved during the Trump era.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Obamas returned to the White House today for their official portrait unveiling, and the paintings are a bit unconventional. Former President Barack Obama, dressed in a dark suit, is standing against a white background and looking straight ahead. And in her portrait, former first lady Michelle Obama is sitting on a couch in the red room in a light blue off-the-shoulder dress. As NPR’s Tamara Keith reports, it was a warm homecoming.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Obama’s portrait is hyper-realistic, so detailed it almost looks like a photograph. He said that makes a statement.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

BARACK OBAMA: Presidents are often airbrushed, even mythical, especially after you’re gone.

KEITH: But you said that presidents and first ladies are human. They are defective.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

B OBAMA: When future generations walk these halls and look at these portraits, I hope they get a better, more honest idea of ​​who Michelle and I were. And I hope they walk away with a deeper understanding that if we could do it here, maybe they can too.

KEITH: Obama hosted George W. Bush for his portrait unveiling in 2012, but this tradition did not happen during the Trump presidency. It is not clear why. But that meant Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, was able to honor his friend.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: For eight years we have grown to be a family to each other, through our ups and downs, a family from different backgrounds, united by a set of shared values.

KEITH: The Bidens and the Obamas were mostly serious as they spoke to a room packed with friends and former advisers. But there was also humor, such as the former president’s complaint that Robert McCurdy’s portrayal of him was perhaps too realistic.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

B OBAMA: You’ll notice that he refused to hide my gray hair, he refused my request to make my ears smaller.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: Michelle Obama’s voice cracked with emotion as she spoke about how unlikely it felt that her husband, a biracial boy with a funny name, and a girl who grew up on Chicago’s South Side would find their way into the House. White.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

MICHELLE OBAMA: It’s still a little strange for me to stand in this historic space, to see this big, beautiful painting staring back at me.

KEITH: That portrait was painted by Sharon Sprung. It joins a continuum of history that began with George and Martha Washington. And while it may seem awkward, Michelle Obama said moments like these are important.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING SOUNDBITE)

M OBAMA: Traditions like this are important not only to those of us who hold these offices, but to everyone who participates in and observes our democracy.

KEITH: When this tradition started, portraits were a way for the American people to know what their leaders looked like. Now, they show the president and first lady how they see themselves, says Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association.

STEWART MCLAURIN: For some people they will be a surprise and different because they are not traditional. For others, they will be very affirmative. And yes, that’s him. If that is. And I think that 50 years from now, 75 years from now, when people walk through the White House and see these portraits of President and Mrs. Obama, they will see them as President and Mrs. Obama wanted to be represented. And I think that’s what’s important.

KEITH: Or, as Michelle Obama said, once our time is up, we move on. And all the remains in this sacred place are our good efforts and these portraits. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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