Obama portrait unveiling ceremony at the White House

By Kate Sullivan, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Mike Hayes and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 4:44 PM ET, Wed September 7, 2022
24 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
4:34 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

See the Obamas' White House portraits

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Former President Barack Obama kisses former first lady Michelle Obama at their portrait unveiling on Wednesday.
Former President Barack Obama kisses former first lady Michelle Obama at their portrait unveiling on Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The Obamas' official White House portraits were unveiled in a ceremony Wednesday in the East Room.

The history-making portraits stand in contrast to those of other US presidents and their spouses hung on the White House walls, depicting the first Black President and first lady through the perspectives of contemporary artists working outside many of the conventions of traditional political portraiture.

President Obama's image was painted by Robert McCurdy and Michelle Obama's portrait was painted by Sharon Sprung.

McCurdy told the White House Historical Association in an interview that his process focused on working off of a photograph of the former President. The photorealistic image of the former President, dressed in a black suit with a gray tie, is painted against a minimal white backdrop — a signature of McCurdy's artworks. McCurdy said his paintings take at least a year to complete.

The former first lady's portrait was painted by Sprung, who describes her work as "contemporary realism." The image depicts Michelle Obama in a blue dress, seated on a sofa in the Red Room of the White House. The artwork was painted from photographs taken in different locations on the White House's State Floor.

Here are the portraits side-by-side:

President Barack Obama's portrait was painted by Robert McCurdy. First lady Michelle Obama was painted by Sharon Sprung.
President Barack Obama's portrait was painted by Robert McCurdy. First lady Michelle Obama was painted by Sharon Sprung. (White House Historical Association)

4:30 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

The two portraits have now been hung at the White House

From CNN's From Kevin Liptak

The Obamas' official portraits have now been hung in the White House.

President Obama's is hanging in the Grand Foyer at the base of the main White House staircase, replacing the portrait of former President Clinton.

It hangs above a small red sofa. 

Former first lady Michelle Obama's is hanging one floor below, along the ground floor hallway. It's hanging within one of the recessed archways that line the hallway.


4:13 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Biden and first lady hosted the Obamas for private lunch before portrait unveiling

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted the Obamas for a private lunch at the White House today before the portrait unveiling, an official told CNN, a quiet session that gave the families a chance to catch up before be joined by a few hundred guests at the ceremony.

The lunch also included Marian Robinson, the mother of Michelle Obama, but the table was limited to those five.

Conversation at the lunch was more focused on nostalgia, an official said, rather than a strategy session on midterm elections or pending policies.

But the full extent of the discussion was not immediately shared with top aides, the official said, who described the lunch as private.


3:32 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Here's where the Obama portraits will likely be displayed at the White House 

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

A White House military social aide looks on in the Grand Foyer, near a portrait of former President Bill Clinton, in November.
A White House military social aide looks on in the Grand Foyer, near a portrait of former President Bill Clinton, in November. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/File)

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are now hosting the Obamas and their guests for refreshments in the State Dining Room, following the official unveiling of the portraits, which are expected to be hung this week at the White House.

If tradition holds, the portrait of former President Barack Obama will be on prominent display in the Grand Foyers of the White House, just off the Cross Hall that connects the East Room and the State Dining Room.

Portraits of former President George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and others will shift to other positions.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait will hang in the lower level of the White House, where other first ladies adorn the walls.

During former President Donald Trump’s time in office, he moved the portraits of Clinton and Bush and replaced them with William McKinley, the nation’s 25th President and Theodore Roosevelt, who succeeded McKinley.

The portraits of Bush and Clinton were restored to their place of prominence when Biden took office.

3:04 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Michelle Obama: These portraits are a "reminder that there's a place for everyone in this country"

Former first lady Michelle Obama addressed the larger message of inclusion that the unveiling of her and former President Barack Obama's White House portraits sends to people in the country and around the world.

"Too often in this country, people feel like they have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in. That they have to make a lot of money or come from a certain group or class or faith in order to matter, but what we're looking at today, a portrait of a biracial kid with an unusual name and the daughter of a water pump operator and a stay-at-home mom, what we are seeing is a reminder that there's a place for everyone in this country," Obama said in remarks from the White House East Room.

"Because as Barack said, if the two of us can end up on the walls of the most famous address in the world, then, again, it is so important for every young kid who is doubting themselves to believe that they can too. That is what this country is about," Obama added.

Obama continued her remarks by stating that the significance of the event extends beyond the unveiling of portraits.

"It's not about blood or pedigree or wealth. It's a place where everyone should have a fair shot. Whether you're a kid taking two buses and a train just to get to school or a single mother who's working two jobs to put some food on the table, or an immigrant just arriving, getting your first apartment, forging a future for yourself in a place you dreamed of. That's why for me this day isn't about me or Barack. It's not even about these beautiful paintings. It's about telling that fuller story, a story that includes every single American in every single corner of the country so that our kids and grandkids can see something more for themselves," she said.

The former first lady ended her address with a message of hope.

"And as much as some folks might want us to believe that that story has lost some of its shine, that division and discrimination and everything else might have dimmed its light, I still know, deep in my heart, that what we share as my husband continues to say is so much bigger than what we don't. Our democracy is so much stronger than our differences, and this little girl from the south side is blessed beyond measure to have felt the truth of that fuller story throughout her entire life, never more so than today. So thank you to President Biden, to Sharon, and to all of you today for playing a part in this day and all the days that led to it," Obama said.

3:12 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Michelle Obama marks historic nature of portraits: "Traditions like this matter" 

Former President Barack Obama listens to his wife, Michelle, speak on Wednesday.
Former President Barack Obama listens to his wife, Michelle, speak on Wednesday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Former first lady Michelle Obama noted the historic nature of the unveiling of the White House portraits of her and former President Barack Obama on Wednesday, using her remarks to highlight the importance of traditions, like the portrait unveiling and a peaceful transition of power, for American democracy.

"Believe it or not, it is still a bit odd for me to stand in this historic space, see this big beautiful painting staring back at me. Growing up on Euclid Avenue... I never could have imagined that any of this would be part of my story, but even if it's all still a bit awkward for me, I do recognize why moments like these are important, why all of this is absolutely necessary. Traditions like this matter, not just for those of us who hold these positions but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy," Obama said during a ceremony in the East Room.

She continued, "You see the people, they make their voices heard with their vote. We hold an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power. Those of us lucky enough to serve, work, as Barack said, as hard as we can for as long as we can, as long as the people choose to keep us here. And once our time is up, we move on, and all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts and these portraits."

Obama also reflected on her time as first lady and what moments like this could represent for future generations. 

"Portraits that connect our history to the present day. Portraits that hang here as history continues to be made. So for me, this day is not just about what has happened. It's also about what could happen because a girl like me, she was never supposed to be up there next to Jacqueline Kennedy and Dolley Madison. She was never supposed to live in this house, and she definitely wasn't supposed to serve as first lady," Obama noted.

CNN's Sam Fossum contributed reporting to this post.

2:32 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Michelle Obama talks about raising daughters at the White House and thanks staff for making it "a home"

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Former first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday talked about raising her two daughters at the White House and gave special thanks to the residence staff who made it feel like “a home.”

“We were saying at lunch that the girls have lived in this house longer than they've lived anywhere. And so this, as odd of an home as it can be, as wonderful as it can be, it is a special place because we raised our girls here,” Obama said as she thanked President Biden and first lady Jill Biden for hosting the official portrait unveiling ceremony. 

Obama also gave special thanks to the residence staff who worked at the White House for the two terms former President Barack Obama was in office. 

“I also want to take the time to recognize the residence staff. As Barack said, you guys made this a home. We snatched up a few of you all and took you with us, but for those of you who we couldn't bring, we miss you so much. We miss you so much. The best part about this house was you all, so it's so good to see you, and you all look good,” she said. 

3:44 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Obama says artist captured "everything I love about Michelle" in the portrait

(Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
(Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Former President Barack Obama thanked the artists who created their White House portraits, noting that "it was important to find the right people to paint them."

"I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle, her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she's fine," Obama said, adding, "Just saying. Her portrait is stunning."

He then went on to thank the artist who painted him, Robert McCurdy for "taking on a much more difficult subject and doing a fantastic job with mine." 

"He captures every wrinkle on your face, every crease in your shirt. You'll note that he refused to hide any of my gray hairs. Refused my request to make my ears smaller," he added.

Obama joked McCurdy "also talked me out of wearing a tan suit, by the way." 

The former President noted that McCurdy's work "is so precise that at first glance it looks like a photograph."

2:21 p.m. ET, September 7, 2022

Biden talks about close relationship with Obamas: "We grew to be a family for each other"

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

President Biden spoke on Wednesday of the close relationship he and his family shared with the Obamas throughout the the former President's two terms in office. 

“For eight years we grew to be a family for each other through our highs and our lows. Family from different backgrounds brought together by a shared value set, and all of the things that the families have done together, I imagine there may have been other relationships like this between a President and a vice president but none comes to mind,” Biden said during a ceremony at the White House to unveil the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama. 

The President said, “I remember how you were with me when our son was passing, and I remember the eulogy you gave on his behalf. You'll never fully understand just how much it meant to Jill and me and the entire family.”

Biden recalled the night he and Obama accepted the nomination for President and vice president in 2008. 

“I always remember that night we accepted the nomination in Denver. My granddaughter Finnegan, who is a great friend of your daughters, came up to our room and said, Pop, can we, can we move the beds out of my room? And I said, why do you want to move the beds out of your room? She said well so, her two sisters, Malia and Sasha, we could all get sleeping begs and lie on the floor and sleep together and watch the convention on the floor,” Biden said. 

He continued, “That image of them all together will stay with me forever, and I think it melded our families in ways that it's hard for other people to understand.”