Wednesday, October 5, 2022

What to know about the White House unveiling of Obama portraits

correction

A previous version of this article incorrectly said Lyndon B. Johnson gave remarks at his portrait unveiling. He did not. The quip was made by former president Gerald R. Ford at the unveiling of Ford’s portrait. The article has been corrected.

Barack and Michelle Obama returned to the White House on Wednesday for the unveiling of their official White House portraits, in an East Room ceremony hosted by President Biden and first lady Jill Biden.

“Barack and Michelle, welcome home,” said Joe Biden, who served as vice president under Obama for eight years.

John Rogers, chairman of the White House Historical Association, said Wednesday’s ceremony was also a celebration of “the unlikely story that is America,” noting the Obamas as the first Black American first family at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Today is a reminder that America is governed not by a disconnected series of presidents, but rather by the enduring presidency,” Rogers said. “And within the greater story that’s told by the 43 other portraits, we boldly celebrate their contrast and their confluence … as distinguished chapters in the American narrative.”

The event also marked the return of the long-standing tradition of sitting presidents welcoming their predecessors — regardless of party — to the White House to unveil their official portraits. In his time in office, Donald Trump hosted no events at the White House for Obama, whom he accused — without evidence — of spying on him during the 2016 campaign.

Here’s what to know about this White House tradition and the portraits that were unveiled Wednesday.

Don’t the Obamas already have their official portraits?

The White House presidential portraits are separate from the ones in the “America’s Presidents” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The Obamas’ Smithsonian portraits, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, were unveiled at the museum in 2018 — about 13 months after Obama left office — and made a splash for their distinctive styles and bold colors. Those paintings are on a national tour and scheduled to return to Washington in November.

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