On Wednesday afternoon (September 7th), the Obamas were the guests of honor at the White House as their official portraits were unveiled to the public for the first time. The ceremony honoring a former President & First Lady which is hosted by his successor is a time-honored tradition – one broken as former President Donald J. Trump refused to hold the ceremony during his term in office. President Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, held court over the proceedings in the East Room. “Welcome home!”, he said to the former President and his family.
“Thanks to your decency and thanks to your strength — maybe most of all thanks to your faith in democracy and the American people — the country’s better off than when you took office. And we should all be deeply grateful for that.”
The portraits were done respectively by artists Robert McCurdy and Sharon Sprung, chosen by the Obamas. The paintings were commissioned by the White House Historical Association. The former President was effusive in his praise of McCurdy as he took to the podium, joking: “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 also talked me out of wearing a tan suit, by the way.”
Mr. Obama also praised Sprung’s work: “I want to thank Sharon Sprung for capturing everything I love about Michelle: her grace, her intelligence, and the fact that she’s fine,” he said, eliciting cheers and laughs from the gathered crowd. Mrs. Obama spoke at length of the significance of the couple’s portraits being present, saying: “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.”
The Biden hosted the Obama family and guests for a private luncheon before the event. The portrait of former President Obama is now hanging in the Grand Foyer located at the base of the White House staircase, and the portrait of Mrs. Obama is hung up one floor below in the ground floor’s hallway.