Those White House portraits

The official White House portrait of former President Barack Obama, by Robert McCurdy. (White House Historical Association/White House Collection)

By now you know the story of why the Obamas’ official portraits were only just installed in the White House. Blame our most recent ex-president for yet another failure to observe protocol.

But that aside, I just want to go on record as saying I love the photorealistic painting of President Obama and am only “meh” about Michelle Obama’s portrait. Photorealism in paintings fascinates me. Admittedly much of it these days may be computer assisted, if not actually generated. A shame. I prefer to think nothing but a skilled artist’s hand and brush came between the subject and the canvas. Yet even when I was still in school one could project a picture onto a canvas and essentially just “paint by number.”

There’s a certain warmth in a traditional painting that some think is lacking in photorealism. Given that difference in style, I wouldn’t hang the Obama portrait alongside previous presidential portraits, but I understand they are hung in different locations around the White House rather than together — unless the sitting president chooses to do so.

All previous Presidential and First Lady portraits can be seen at The White House Historical Association.

The White House portrait of Michelle Obama, by Sharon Sprung. (White House Historical Association/White House Collection)

15 thoughts on “Those White House portraits

          1. It is, isn’t it, Jim ? – a person without humour is a blot on the landscape.
            I used to love seeing footage of Barack wandering about with a small entourage and greeting ordinary people: it gave me a thrill to see how deeply affected with a kind of overwhelming joy they were to speak to him.

  1. I’m impressed by the Obama portrait of him and as underwhelmed as she looks by the one of his First Lady. Generally impressed by the technical skills of photo realism, but who takes the photo? The painter or someone else, if it’s another photographer they deserve a credit.

    1. I read it was the painter who took the photos. Many, many photos trying to catch the light just right, the expression, and who knows what other details. Many painters take photos first to “freeze” the moment, since light continues to change, expressions change, bodies move. Similar problems with landscapes. They’re always in flux.

    1. Gabriel! So good to see you again.
      Yes, we were smart enough to put a great couple in the White House. These days I wonder if we’ll ever see days like that again.
      As for the portraits, in both cases I like those of Barack and am only lukewarm about those of Michelle. If I were making choices I’d take the White House portrait of Barack and the National Gallery portrait of Michelle.

... and that's my two cents