The gallery commissioned portraits of the former US President and First Lady, which were painted by the American artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively. The paintings were officially revealed as part of the gallery’s 50th anniversary celebrations, with the Obamas in attendance.
The paintings are now on display in the newly renovated “America’s Presidents” Gallery, where visitors can see the country’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. The new paintings are likely to entice visitors, as their contemporary style contrasts with what many imagine when they think of presidential portraiture. Kehinde Wiley’s striking portrait of President Obama shows him seated on a chair, surrounded by foliage, while Amy Sherald depicts the former First Lady in a patterned dress from the American fashion company Milly. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to create works for the presidential portrait collection.
The massive collection is made up of portraits commissioned by the museum and the White House at the end of each presidency. Another set of official portraits can be found at the White House. With the gallery celebrating its 50th anniversary, there are a number of special events on this year. On display until 27 February is a rarely shown print of the “cracked-plate” photo of Abraham Lincoln. The image was taken back in 1865 just before the president’s assassination and the original negative, which was on a glass-plate, broke. Only one print was made before it was discarded. The last time it was shown to the public was in 2016.
If you’re keen to see the works of art in person, entry to the National Portrait Gallery is free and open from 11:30 am to 7 pm daily.