White House portraits are ‘testament of American values,’ says Michelle Obama

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden welcomed former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama to the White House on Wednesday to unveil official portraits of the Obamas painted by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung.

During the unveiling ceremony in the East Room, Biden spoke about the close relationship he had with his former commander-in-chief.

“For eight years we have become a family to each other through our ups and downs, a family from different backgrounds brought together by a set of shared values ​​and all the things families have done together. J ‘imagine there may have been other relationships like this between a president and a vice president, but none come to mind,’ Biden said.

“Mr. President, this is why the country elected you twice. This is why you will be considered one of the most important presidents in our history, as well as one of the most important first ladies,” Biden said.

Obama responded in kind, saying, “Because of your decency, your strength, perhaps, most of all, your faith in our democracy and the American people, the country is better off than when you took office. .”

“Joe, now is America’s chance to have you as president,” he said.

President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama arrive in the East Room of the White House in Washington, September 7, 2022, for the unveiling of the official White House portraits of the former president and his wife.

While the affinity of the two leaders was at the rendezvous, Michelle Obama gave a moving speech highlighting her story, that of a black girl who grew up in a working class district of Chicago and became the first lady of the country. .

“To me, this day isn’t about me or Barack. It’s not even about the beautiful paintings,” she said. “It’s about telling that fuller story, a story that includes every American, in every corner of the country, so that our children and grandchildren can see something more for themselves.”

The portraits testify to the American values ​​that the story embodies, she said.

“That’s what this country is,” the former first lady said. “It’s not about blood, pedigree or wealth. It’s a place where everyone should have a chance, whether you’re a kid taking two buses and a train just to get to school. or a single mother working two jobs to put food on the table. Or an immigrant, just arrived, getting her first apartment, forging a future in a place you’ve dreamed of.”

Michelle Obama dismissed the idea that dividing the country would cause people to lose faith in the nation.

“I always know deep in my heart that what we share – as my husband keeps saying – is so much bigger than what we don’t share. Our democracy is so much stronger than our differences,” he said. she stated.

Wednesday was Barack Obama’s second visit to the White House since leaving office. He last visited in April to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, the health care law known as Obamacare, which he signed in 2010. It was Michelle Obama’s first visit since her husband’s term ended in January 2017.

The artists

The official portraits of the Obamas were kept secret and the names of the artists who painted them were not revealed until the ceremony.

This combination of photos shows the official White House portraits of former President Barack Obama, by artist Robert McCurdy, and former first lady Michelle Obama, by artist Sharon Sprung, at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, September 7, 2022, in Washington.

This combination of photos shows the official White House portraits of former President Barack Obama, by artist Robert McCurdy, and former first lady Michelle Obama, by artist Sharon Sprung, at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, September 7, 2022, in Washington.

The portrait of Obama, in which he wears a black suit with a gray tie against a pristine white background, is the work of American artist Robert McCurdy, known for his photorealistic oil paintings of visionaries, including the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

“It captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt,” Obama said. “You’ll notice he refused to hide my gray hair. Refused my request to make my ears smaller.”

In a swipe at Republicans who once attacked him for his fashion choices, Obama joked that McCurdy “talked me out of wearing a tan suit too, by the way.”

Sharon Sprung, who calls her work “contemporary realism,” painted Michelle Obama in a blue dress sitting on a couch in the Red Room of the White House.

“Sharon now joins a small but powerful group of women who have painted an official portrait here in the White House,” Michelle Obama said.

The paintings are separate from portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, which were commissioned by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in 2018.

Started with Washington

The White House displays presidential portraits in various rooms, starting with that of the first American president, George Washington, which was purchased by Congress. Other portraits of past presidents were added to the collection as gifts. Since 1965, the portraits have been funded by the White House Historical Association, a private non-profit association, beginning with those of Lyndon Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson and John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy.

“Portraitists aim to capture each unique appearance and personality, piecing together our presidential history through these individual works of art,” the association said in a statement.

Regardless of his partisan affiliation, the incumbent president generally welcomes and unveils the portrait of his immediate predecessor. This tradition was broken under President Donald Trump, who promoted the so-called birther movement based on the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is not eligible for the presidency.

While presidents and first ladies typically begin discussions about their official portraits before they even leave the White House, Trump, who left office without admitting he had lost the 2020 election, is unlikely to did.

The White House did not respond when asked if it had started discussions on a portrait of Trump and whether Biden would hold an unveiling ceremony for his predecessor.

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