The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery Museum was authorized and founded by Congress in 1962 with the mission to acquire and display portraits of “men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States.”
Since its opening in 1968, the Washington, D.C. museum has went on to house the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House, the “America’s Presidents” – according to its website National Portrait Gallery
In the late 1990’s, the National Portrait Gallery started Commissioning portraits of paintings of presidents and the first ladies as they the left office. (The first was President George H.W. Bush)
This whole process would normally go under the radar, except for this year The Obama’s made the amazing choice to choose Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald paint theirs. These will be the first two black artist to be commissioned to paint the presidential couple.
For the Barack Obama Portrait, many of you should already be very familiar with the work of Kehinde Wiley and his very modern Baroque-style portraits . He is the artist that paints ordinary black subjects on massive canvases then gives them a sense of European nobility. The LA artist, now based in New York, likes to use very bright colors and patterns that somehow bring his work to life. You can look at some of his work below to see why he makes such an interesting choice for a presidential portrait.
For the Michele Obama Portrait, she has decided to go with Baltimore based Amy Sherald. She specializes in portraits of black women, their skin painted in shades of gray, surrounded by cheerful backgrounds and dressed in fashionable clothing.
She recently won the National Portrait Gallery’s Outtwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016 for her painting Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance). Even though she is more subdued than Wiley, you can see her extraordinary work currently displayed at Studio Museum in Harlem and in other private collections across the country.
We can’t wait to see the work from these two amazing artist and how they decide to paint the first black presidential couple of the United States. What another great moment for art and black excellence.