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Monday morning, the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. unveiled the official portraits of former POTUS and FLOTUS, Barack and Michelle Obama. The two paintings were commissioned as one of President Obama’s last acts in the White House and the couple picked some pretty incredible artists.

Barack’s portrait was painted by New York City artist Kehinde Wiley who is known for painting African-American subjects in heroic poses amid naturalistic environments. In fact, the flowery Madonna-esque Beyonce pregnancy announcement was rumoured to be influenced by Wiley’s style. The portrait depicts the former president seated in a wooden chair in front of a leafy background that includes flowers symbolic of each of the places Obama has lived.

Barack Obama portrait
Getty Images

Michelle’s portrait was done by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald for whom this is her first foray into majorly public art. Sherald is known for painting in greyscale in order to “subversively comment about race without feeling as though [she’s] excluding the viewer.” Michelle’s portrait is created in her customary style, so the First Lady is depicted with grey skin.

Michelle Obama Portrait
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Simmie Knox became the first African-American to paint an official presidential portrait when he was commissioned to paint Bill Clinton. Wiley and Sherald are the first African-American artists to receive the honor of painting presidential portraits for the National Portrait Gallery. At the unveiling, the Obamas talked about how they hope for the portraits and their painters to inspire young people of colour for generations.

“[I’m] thinking about all of the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall,” Michelle said, “I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

“What I was always struck by when I saw [Wiley’s] portraits was the degree to which they challenged our ideas of power and privilege,” Barack said. He also talked about the similarities between Wiley’s childhood and his own — both had absent African fathers and were raised by American mothers.

“I ended up writing about that journey and channeling it into the work that I did because I cannot paint,” Obama joked.

Most of the reaction to the portraits was wildly positive.

A few people had some jokes when it came to Obama’s portrait because while it may depict him looking strong, stoic and downright regal, it also reminds a lot of people of some memes. Most notably: Sean Spicer hiding from reporters in the bushes and Homer Simpson basically doing the same thing.

There was also some negative reaction to Michelle’s portrait by those unfamiliar with Sherald’s work. They were confused about the monochromatic portrait and some thought that the rendering didn’t look like the First Lady at all.

Other Twitter users countered that the portrait may not look exactly like Michelle, but it captures her essence, power, beauty and all she stands for perfectly.

At the very least, Barack thinks it captures his wife. He said in his speech, “Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman I love.”

Seriously, how much do we miss the Obamas?

Obamas Portraits
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