President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden unveiled Barack and Michelle Obama’s official White House portraits in an East Room ceremony on Wednesday. Painted by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, the works are separate from the buzzy portraits commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery.
McCurdy, an American artist whose paintings of the Dalai Lama, Toni Morrison, and Nelson Mandela are known for their lifelike quality, depicted the 44th president in his signature style. Unlike McCurdy’s prior work, the painter conducted his portrait of Obama in complete secrecy, going so far as to sign a confidentiality agreement. “That was definitely new,” McCurdy told Stewart McLaurin, president of the White House Historical Association, in a podcast interview.
Meanwhile, Sharon Sprung, the New York-based artist who painted the former first lady, specializes in figurative art. “I had told my friends that I had wanted to paint Michelle a while ago,” Sprung told McLaurin. She’s previously portrayed Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of Congress, and the artist is currently working on a portrait of Patsy Mink, the first woman of color to hold a congressional seat.
Today’s event marks the first time the Obamas are returning to the White House together since their 2017 departure. The ceremony also represents the renewal of a bipartisan ritual that disappeared during the 45th president’s administration. Breaking with decades of tradition, Trump did not provide a specific reason why he opted not to host an unveiling event for his predecessor.