On Wednesday, the Obamas returned to the executive mansion, more than five years after moving out, to share their official White House portraits.
The paintings of the former president and the former first lady, which were created by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively, are painted in the artists’ respective styles, with Barack realistically depicted in a black suit, grey tie and an American Flag pin against a stark white backdrop. As is tradition, the former president’s portrait will likely be displayed in the Grand Foyer of the White House, where it will join portraits of Bill Clinton and George W Bush.
The portrait of Michelle, painted by Sprung, depicts the former first lady wearing a blue off-the-shoulder Jason Wu gown and sitting on a red chaise lounge. In the painting, which will also reside permanently in the White House, Michelle can be seen resting one hand on top of the other as she sits gracefully with her arms crossed.
On social media, the couple’s official portraits have been met with an outpouring of praise, with many applauding the artists for successfully capturing Michelle and Barack in their unique styles.
“Michelle Obama is absolutely stunning in her portrait. Barack Obama isn’t too shabby either,” one person tweeted.
Another said: “I’m literally OBSESSED with Michelle Obama’s official White House portrait. It’s stunning. Beautiful, classy, timeless, and so much more that words can’t explain.”
“Absolutely gorgeous. His shows so much power, so much dignity, and she looks absolutely gorgeous,” someone else wrote.
— Jeannie Kartis (@jeannie_kartis) September 7, 2022
Love love love Michelle Obama's portrait. Gorgeous. https://t.co/aG2lbiPF0b
— MelRose💙💛 (@MelMcB23) September 7, 2022
Others praised McCurdy’s ability to paint Barack Obama in such a hyper-realistic style, with one person noting that the former president “looks like a photograph”.
“Really beautiful. His looks like a photograph. Hers conveys the strength and determination touched with a hint of humour in her expression. Very well done,” they wrote.
Barack Obama's portrait, by artist Robert McCurdy, is a breathtakingly modern piece of work that will shine in any room it's in. Sharon Sprung's portrait of Michelle perfectly captures her badassery and, as Barack put it, "the fact that she's fine." 🤣 https://t.co/jc7YhS1brM
— Alicia (@ADnTigger) September 7, 2022
Barack Obama himself was among those praising Sprung for her interpretation of his wife, with the former president telling the crowd assembled at the White House unveiling that he was grateful to the artist for capturing everything he loves about Michelle, including that she is “fine”.
“I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle. Her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she’s fine,” the 61-year-old former president joked.
As for the methods and techniques that went into capturing the portraits, McCurdy revealed during an interview for a podcast with Stewart McLaurin, the president of the White House Historical Association, which commissioned the portraits, that he employed his usual process, which sees him taking a photograph and then creating the painting based off the picture.
“This is the speech that everybody gets when they sit for me,” he said. “To look directly into the lens. To not smile. Not gesture. And just hold into that moment.
“We’re trying to extend time rather than slice it like a photograph. We’re not looking for a gestural moment. We’re looking for a more meditative or transcendent moment.”
When it came to capturing Michelle Obama, Sprung said she worked entirely from photographs taken in various locations on the State Floor of the White House. According to the artist, she’d originally thought to depict the former first lady standing up to “give it a certain dignity”.
“But she doesn’t need dignity. She has so much dignity that I decided to do it sitting,” she said, adding that the decision also stemmed from the realisation that Michelle is much taller than her.