Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled their portraits at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., today. While you may have seen photos of the stunning pieces of art, you might not know the entire story, including the background of the artists, the symbolism, the fashion element, and more. Read on for five fast facts you need to know.
1. Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are the first African-American artists to be selected to paint official presidential portraits for the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. The Obamas personally chose the artists to execute the portraits.
2. Sherald, who painted Michelle Obama's portrait, is based in Baltimore, Maryland. The Smithsonian revealed that Sherald survived a heart transplant in 2012. "A personification of resilience herself, Sherald conveys the inner strength of her subjects through a combination of calm expressions and confrontational poses," the Smithsonian explained.
3. Barack Obama's portrait is filled with symbolism. According to Variety, each of the flowers in the background holds a special meaning. Chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, his hometown, while the jasmine blooms represent Hawaii, where Obama grew up. Finally, the African blue lilies are a homage to Obama's Kenyan father.
4. Michelle Obama wears a Milly dress in her portrait. In a press release, the brand gives further details on the beautiful gown: "The floor length, full silhouette was designed by [Milly co-founder and creative director] Michelle Smith specifically for the portrait. Loosely based on a runway dress from the spring 2017 collection and made in New York City, the dress is made of a stretch cotton poplin in a clean, geometric print, reflecting a modern sensibility."
5. Wiley, who painted Barack Obama's portrait, is known for his colorful large-scale Renaissance-influenced paintings of black men and women, among them music icons like Michael Jackson, LL Cool J, and Ice-T. An in-depth GQ profile from 2013, however, explains that Wiley doesn't only paint famous people. "More often Wiley’s paintings are of people you don’t know, people like those he’ll meet over the next month in five different African countries—Morocco, Tunisia, Gabon, Congo, and Cameroon—in search of representative men, hundreds he’ll photograph all over Africa, returning to his studio in Beijing to paint a wildly ambitious, continuing endeavor that he calls the World Stage," GQ wrote at the time.
Opening image: Getty Images