The official White House portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled yesterday after being blocked by Donald Trump for four years.
The paintings, destined to hang alongside those of generations of previous first couples in the White House, were unveiled by the Obamas themselves.
Mr Obama, the country’s first Black president, was depicted by Robert McCurdy looking straight out, hands in pockets, his dark suit contrasting against a startlingly white background, and shadow falling over half of his face.
Mrs Obama, who was painted by Sharon Sprung, posed in a light blue gown, seated on a red sofa.
Past presidents and first ladies have typically had their portraits hung in White House halls and corridors after ceremonies hosted by successors. Democrat Obama, for example, hosted George W. Bush, a Republican, and his wife Laura Bush at portrait unveilings in 2012.
However, Trump declined to invite the Obamas – amid undisguised contempt between both leaders in the wake of the Republican’s shock 2016 election win – and the tradition ground to a halt.
The norm-shredding Trump even reportedly ordered portraits of Bush and his predecessor Bill Clinton to be taken down from the walls of the Grand Foyer and put in storage.
But a portrait of Hillary Clinton, the former first lady whom Trump had defeated in his presidential campaign, remained visible in a lower corridor through his tempestuous 2017-2021 term.
Mrs Obama joked that McCurdy’s signature precision and sharp lines meant he “refused to hide any of my grey hairs,” but said the directness of the style countered the tendency where presidents “often get airbrushed,” getting “mythical status, especially after you’ve gone and people forget all the stuff they didn’t like.”
Mrs Obama veered into distinctly political territory with a powerful homage to US democracy and barely disguised criticism of Trump.
“Traditions like this matter,” she said, describing the portraits custom as part of the passing of the torch between successive, even opposing administrations.
“We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” she said in a barbed reminder of the way Trump refused to accept his 2020 defeat by Biden, stymied the incoming government’s preparations – then failed to invite the Obamas to unveil their official portraits.