Obama White House Portrait Unveiled

September 7, 2022
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with their White House portraits

Today is a reminder that America is governed not by a disconnected series of presidents, but rather by the enduring presidency.

John Rogers, chairman of the White House Historical Association, at the unveiling of the White House portraits of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Why It Matters: The White House portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama continue a presidential tradition that dates back to the founding of America.

  • In recent years, the White House Historical Association helps secure the portraits of Presidents and First Ladies that hang in the White House – helping to arrange the portraitists (a choice of the president/first lady) and part of the unveiling.
  • President Obama's Portrait: Painted by Robert McCurdy who uses photography to help him with his precise, uniform portraits that show a person, staring straight ahead, often in appearing in such a life-like way, you may think his painting is not a painting at all! He says he always has his subjects face forward, with a contemplative look, because he wants to capture a moment in time – not the before and after of an emotion, or a story. McCurdy has painted Toni Morrison, Nelson Mandela and Warren Buffett. He worked on Pres. Obama's portrait for 18 months. How did he know he was done with it? He replied with humor: "When it stops irritating me."
  • Michelle Obama chose Brooklyn-based artist Sharon Sprung to apint her portrait. Sprung describes herself as a modern painter but she wanted to keep the portrait somewhat traditional to reflect what she describes as Obama's dignity and grace. Sprung started painting at age 19 and as a young painter, even contacted a previous White House portraitist and fellow New Yorker, Aaron Shikler for advice; Shikler painted the portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy and President Kennedy. Sprung worked on this painting for 8 months and when asked how she knew the portrait was complete she answered that she knows when she walks into a room and the painting starts to "breathe."
  • President Obama said he liked both portraits because he feels as if both paintings represent real parts of who they are as a couple.

Robert McCurdy

Sharon Sprung

by Jenna Lee,