On Wednesday (September 7), former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama returned to the White House for the unveiling of their portraits.
Their return signals a revival of the bipartisan tradition that briefly stalled during former President Donald Trump’s tenure and the second appearance by the former President since Biden took office.
Introducing the former White House couple at the ceremony held in the East Room, Biden said, “Barack and Michelle, welcome home.”
Since 1965, the White House Historical Association has facilitated the acquisition of portraits for the President and First Lady, who select artists before leaving office. When the portraits are complete, they are displayed in the White House.
In the years since this tradition emerged, sitting Presidents typically host their immediate predecessors at the unveiling of the official portraits.
Former President Bill Clinton hosted George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush hosted Clinton, and Barack Obama hosted Bush junior.
But this tradition came to an abrupt halt when Trump didn’t invite the Obamas to an unveiling, and in the first half of Biden’s presidency as hosting such an event wasn’t feasible given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until Wednesday, the names of the artists commissioned hadn’t been shared. But on Wednesday, Obama’s choice was revealed to be Robert McCurdy, and Michelle Obama’s choice was revealed to be Sharon Sprung.
Obama explained he chose McCurdy for his lifelike depictions, “His work is so precise that a glance it looks like a photograph,” the former President said.
He added, “Presidents so often get airbrushed, even take on a mythical status.”
He continued, “What I want people to remember about Michelle and me is presidents and first ladies are human beings like everyone else. We have our gifts, and we have our flaws.”