Sunday 22 July 2018

Obama unveils couple's official portraits - and jokes about his wife's 'hotness'

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama hold hands between their portraits during an unveiling ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama hold hands between their portraits during an unveiling ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former President Barack Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Kehinde Wiley. (Kehinde Wiley/National Portrait Gallery via AP)
This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Amy Sherald. (Amy Sherald/National Portrait Gallery via AP)
Former President Barack Obama stands in front of his official portrait by Artist Kehinde Wiley at its unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former President Barack Obama, left, speaks at the unveiling ceremony for the Obama's official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. Obama's portrait was painted by Artist Kehinde Wiley. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former first lady Michelle Obama and Artist Amy Sherald, right, unveil Michelle Obama's official portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former President Barack Obama, right, and Artist Kehinde Wiley, left, unveil the Obama's official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former President Barack Obama, right, and Artist Kehinde Wiley, left, unveil Obama's official portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama walks past a portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama during an unveiling ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during an unveiling ceremony for portraits of himself and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton

Former U.S. President Barack Obama joked about his ears and gray hair and praised his wife Michelle Obama's "hotness" at the unveiling of the couple's official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery on Monday.

The Obamas selected artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the paintings, which take their place in the National Portrait Gallery's collection of presidential portraits.

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.

For Obama's portrait by Wiley, the former president is depicted sitting in a brown chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colorful flowers. Sherald's painting of Michelle Obama shows her sitting with one hand under her chin and the other draped across her lap, while wearing a long flowing dress decorated with geometric shapes.

This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former President Barack Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Kehinde Wiley. (Kehinde Wiley/National Portrait Gallery via AP)
This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former President Barack Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Kehinde Wiley. (Kehinde Wiley/National Portrait Gallery via AP)

Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, complimented Sherald for her portrait of Michelle.

"I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love," Obama said.

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was "less becoming."

"I tried to negotiate less gray hair and Kehinde's artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked," Obama said in tongue-in-cheek fashion. "I tried to negotiate smaller ears - struck out on that as well."

This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Amy Sherald. (Amy Sherald/National Portrait Gallery via AP)
This image provided by the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution is of the official portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, released Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington. The portrait artist is Amy Sherald. (Amy Sherald/National Portrait Gallery via AP)

New York Times art critic Holland Cotter said while he was impressed by Barack Obama's unusual depiction, he was disappointed that the focus of Michelle Obama's portrait appeared to be her dress.

"I was anticipating — hoping for — a bolder, more incisive image of the strong-voiced person I imagine this former first lady to be," Cotter said in his review.

Former President Barack Obama, left, speaks at the unveiling ceremony for the Obama's official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. Obama's portrait was painted by Artist Kehinde Wiley. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former President Barack Obama, left, speaks at the unveiling ceremony for the Obama's official portraits at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Washington. Obama's portrait was painted by Artist Kehinde Wiley. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Most Twitter posts described the portraits as stunning, although a few criticized them as poorly executed.

"Behold the beauty of Barack and Michelle Obama's official portrait," tweeted @newyorknewart.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama hold hands between their portraits during an unveiling ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama hold hands between their portraits during an unveiling ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, U.S., February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Michelle Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of color in the years ahead.

"They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution," she said. "I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls."

The Portrait Gallery's tradition of commissioning presidential portraits began with President George H.W. Bush. Other portraits were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other means.

Reuters

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