Barack and Michelle Obama portraits go on display

On Monday the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC unveiled the official paintings of former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama.

The works are different to the studied realism of the presidential portraits preceding them.

Obama portrait

Barack Obama is shown against a backdrop of flowers 

The couple chose prominent African-American painters to portray them, with Mr Obama plumping for Kehinde Wiley and Mrs Obama selecting Amy Sherald.

The gallery comments: “Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to receive this National Portrait Gallery commission...

“Wiley typically portrays people of color posing as famous figures in Western art. Through this practice, he challenges the visual rhetoric of power that is dominated by elite white men.”

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama is pictured in a stunning couture dress 

Sherald, meanwhile: “Conveys the inner strength of her subjects through a combination of calm expressions and confrontational poses.

“She frequently cites her fascination with portraiture’s ability to draw attention to individuals.”

There’s a fascinating symbolism in the floral background Wiley sets Obama against. Blue lilies reference his father’s Kenyan roots, while jasmine symbolises Hawaii – the state of Obama’s birth.

Michelle Obama, on the other hand, is shown wearing a stunning couture dress by designer Michelle Smith.

The paintings will be on display from today (February 13).

While Michelle Obama's painting will eventually be moved, Barack Obama is destined to remain in the permanent America's Presidents collection.

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