The unveiling ceremony took place inside the White House’s East Room, where the Obamas were joined by President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and former staffers of the Obama administration. The portraits were commissioned by the White House Historical Association and will be displayed in the building for years to come.
“There are few people I have known with more integrity, more decency and more courage than Barack Obama,” Biden said during the ceremony. “Nothing could have prepared more for being president of the United States than being by your side for eight years.”
Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits were painted by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, respectively. The former piece shows the 44th president standing against a white background while a black suit and gray tie with his hands in his pockets. The former First Lady was painted wearing a light blue dress as she sat on a sofa inside the Red Room. According to NPR, both portraits were based on photographs taken around the White House.
“These portraits have a special significance…it was important to find the right people to paint them,” the former president explained. He also said, “When future generations walk these halls and look up at these portraits, I hope they get a better honest sense of who Michelle and I were. And I hope they leave with a deeper understanding that if we could make it here, maybe they can, too. They can do remarkable things, too.”
He also drew a laugh when saying thanking Sprung for capturing Michelle’s “grace, her intelligence—and the fact that’s she’s fine.”
The White House portrait unveiling has been a longstanding tradition that stalled during the Trump administration. The last time it took place was in 2012, when Obama hosted the ceremony for George W. and Laura Bush.
“Traditions like this matter—not just for those of us who hold these positions, but for everyone participating in and watching our democracy,” Michelle said. “You see the people that made their voices heard with their vote. And once our time is up, we move on. And all that remains in this hallowed place are our good efforts, and these portraits.”