Gathered together in the East Room of the White House, President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden presented the official portraits of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, painted by Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively. It was the first time the Obamas returned to the White House together since leaving office.
Learn more about the portraits, the artists, and their importance to democracy and American history:
In keeping with a longstanding tradition that dates back to George and Martha Washington, the official portraits of President and Mrs. Obama join a historic collection of presidential portraits commissioned by the White House Historical Association. Opens in a new tab
It’s common for presidents and first ladies to have two sets of portraits created after their terms. In February 2018, President and Mrs. Obama revealed their first set, which were commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.
Check out the portraits Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung created below, and learn more about the artists’ backgrounds and previous works.
President Barack Obama, dressed in a black suit with a grey tie, stands prominently at the center of the canvas. The photorealistic portrait was painted entirely from photographs that were taken by the artist, Robert McCurdy, during a short photo session. It is his preference to work from images rather than sketches completed during sittings. Robert McCurdy (b.1952) spends at least a year on each of his photo realist portraits. His meticulously rendered works capture every minute detail, down to the fibers on his subjects’ clothing. The stark white backgrounds of his portraits allow the viewer to establish a relationship with the subject; the focus shifts from the celebrity-status of the individual to the viewer’s direct response to that individual as a human being. The composition also allows the viewer to establish their own meaning and interaction. McCurdy’s commissions include many notable subjects; Toni Morrison, Jane Goodall, Muhammad Ali, and Neil Armstrong are among his sitters.
First Lady Michelle Obama wears a formal blue dress and is seated on a sofa in the Red Room. Her portrait was also painted entirely from photographs that were taken by artist Sharon Sprung in various locations on the State Floor of the White House. Sharon Sprung (b.1953) has taught at both the Art Students League of New York and the National Academy School for the past 30 years. Her paintings and portraits have been exhibited since the late 1970s, including many one-person shows in New York City. Through her work on the small details of her subjects, such as their eyes, nose, or lips, she gets to know her sitters. Her paintings are jewel-like in their color palettes, a credit that she gives to her use of Vasari handmade paint. By methodically manipulating the layers of paint, she works to mimic the complexity of real life in her portrait compositions.