The Obamas Chose 2 Black Artists to Paint Their Official Portraits for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Barack and Michelle Obama hand-picked the two artists who will paint the portraits that will memorialize them in perpetuity at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, and both artists are black.


The Smithsonian has commissioned Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint the official portraits of the former president and first lady respectively, the Wall Street Journal reports.

President Obama requested that his portrait be painted by 40-year-old Wiley, who is from New York. Wiley, who has an arts degree from Yale University, is known for his portraits that riff on paintings by the old masters, featuring everyday black men and women wearing clothing normally associated with hip-hop culture, set against ornate decorative backgrounds.


Three years ago, a painting Wiley did in 2006—Charles I and Henrietta Maria (After Anthony Van Dyck)—sold at Sotheby’s for $143,000. His work has also been shown at the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions.

Sherald is a 44-year-old artist from Baltimore who studied painting at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia. She is known for painting surreal portraits of elegant black women, their skin done in grayscale and the clothing bright and colorful. She already has a piece of art featured in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Wiley and Sherald are the first-ever black artists to be hired to paint portraits of a president and first lady by the Smithsonian. The museum said that it plans to pay for the works of art through private donations.

A spokeswoman for the National Portrait Gallery told WSJ that details about the portraits won’t be disclosed until they are unveiled in early 2018.


Read more at the Wall Street Journal.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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Here’s Amy Sherald’s work: