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The Obamas issue strong response to their National Portrait Gallery paintings

16 February 2018

The paintings of the 44th President of the United States and his First Lady were done by renowned painters Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively.

Michelle Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of color in the years ahead.

Both Obama and his portraitist were raised by their American mothers without their African fathers. George W. Bush's portrait for the National Portrait Gallery was painted by Robert Anderson, a traditional artist who was a classmate of Bush's at Yale.

For Mr. Obama, Kehinde Wiley portrayed an accessible, focused president with references to his life in the background.

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Most Twitter posts described the portraits as stunning, although a few criticized them as poorly executed. They just happen to be the first black president and the first black first lady.

Mr Obama is fond of the work too, saying artist Amy Sherald did a great job of capturing all of his wife's attributes. And their subjects make history once more, as the first black presidential spouses to be immortalized in the gallery.

The paintings mark a significant departure from the serious and stodgy presidential likenesses that have been captured in the past. "Nobody in my family has ever had a portrait - there are no portraits of the Robinsons or the Shields from the South Side of Chicago", she said.

Among Obama supporters online, there was a bit of grumbling that Michelle Obama's portrait didn't resemble her enough, but the overall tone was of how much people missed having the Obamas in the White House. "She further calls Michelle Obama 'omnipresent" and explains that she exists in people's minds and hearts because people see themselves in her. "What you represent to this country is an ideal - a human being with integrity, intellect, confidence and compassion". Michelle Obama noted that the couple interviewed the artists before making their selection, and she jokingly apologized for putting them through that stress.

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Another user defended the artist tweeting, "People are being so harsh on the artist of Michelle Obama's portrait".

Wiley's work often features African-Americans in the regal poses of emperors and kings, his own distinctive riff on historic portraiture.

"In some ways, our journey involved searching for them and figuring out what that meant", he said.

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The Obamas issue strong response to their National Portrait Gallery paintings