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Former first lady Michelle Obama unveils her portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., February 12, 2018. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Art & life

Michelle Obama’s official portrait unveiled at the Smithsonian

February 12, 2018

The official portraits for Michelle and Barack Obama were unveiled on Monday at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The unveiling of an official portrait is a tradition for American presidents and first ladies after their tenure in the White House ends — the Smithsonian Gallery is the only one in the world with a complete collection of official presidential and first lady portraits.

Michelle’s portrait was painted by Amy Sherald, who was chosen for the project by the former first lady. Sherald, who is based in Baltimore, and Michelle teamed up to remove the black sheet covering the work of art and unveil it to the audience and assembly of reporters on hand in the nation’s capital. Sherald is an African-American artist whose work often deals with social justice issues. According to The New York Times, Michelle chose Sherald last October from among 20 artists who applied for the one-of-a-kind job, but both the former first lady and Sherald kept a tight lid on what people might expect from the painting. “I’m just going to pretend it’s not a big deal,” Sherald said at the time. “I paint paintings of people. And I’m painting a painting of another person.”

Artist Amy Sherald is introduced during the official portrait unveiling of former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The portraits were commissioned by the Gallery, for Kehinde Wiley to create President Obama’s portrait, and Amy Sherald that of Michelle Obama. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

But it is a big deal. A really big deal and, on Monday, the suspense was ended when the painting was finally revealed. “Let me just start by saying, wow!” Michelle said. “It’s amazing,” she added following a long pause to take in the piece of art. “Wow.” Later in her remarks, Michelle said, “It was a total joy to work with you, Amy. I am so pleased an honored, and proud of you.”

The portrait’s coloring is significant, CNN notes, because Sherald is known for painting black skin tones using shades of gray in order to “take away the assigned color” of her subjects, a technique that she used in the painting of the first lady’s portrait. Sherald, no longer being coy about the project, said the opportunity to paint a portrait of the former first lady was a “defining milestone” in her life, USA Today reported. Former President Obama’s selection of Kehinde Wiley made him the first African-American artist to paint an official presidential portrait for the National Portrait Gallery, according to CNN.

The former first lady, who kept a rather low profile during President Donald Trump’s first year in office, has been resurfacing and solving old mysteries lately. Just last month, she appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and finally revealed what was inside that blue Tiffany box Melania Trump gave her on Inauguration Day.

Read the full story and see former president Obama’s portrait at CNN.


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