Obama jokes about ears, gray hair as official portrait unveiled


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – 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 tapped artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the paintings, which will be added to 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 his portrait by Wiley, Obama is depicted sitting in a brown chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colorful flowers. Michelle Obama’s painting 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.

Obama, who was 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.

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

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. “I tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”

The Obamas both expressed awe at their portraits, noting that they were the first people in their families to ever sit for an official painting.

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.

Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kieran Murray and Susan Thomas

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