WASHINGTON – Former President Barack Obama described as “pretty sharp” his colorful portrait by painter Kehinde Wiley, unveiled Monday at the National Portrait Gallery, where it will join the likenesses of his 43 predecessors in the White House.
At the same ceremony, a portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, painted by Amy Sherald was unveiled.
Wiley and Sherald are the first African-American artists commissioned for official portraits of a president and his wife.
“I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow (him) to do what I asked,” Obama joked at the gathering in the Washington museum. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”
Obama, who attended the event with Michelle, former Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration, avoided comments on current political affairs.
The portrait depicts Obama sitting in a carved chair, looking straight into the viewers’ eyes on a background of lush vegetation and bright flowers, an image that contrasts with the more formal representations of his predecessors.
Michelle Obama said she “was a little overwhelmed, to say the least,” when her portrait was unveiled.
The National Portrait Gallery, inaugurated in 1968, contains the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House and started commissioning works of art in 1994 with George H.W. Bush, adding the portraits of former first ladies since the start of this century.