A Nigerian, Kehinde Wiley Paints Obama’s Official Portrait (pic & video)

Barack Obama’s official portrait, the first presidential portrait by a black artist commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery, was unveiled Monday.

Michelle Obama’s portrait, also painted by a Kehinde Wiley and another national first, was revealed as well.

For his portrait, which will hang in the hall of presidents in the National Portrait Gallery, Obama chose Kehinde Wiley, a prominent Yale-trained painter known for large, colorful portraits of black people in the regal style of classic European paintings. (Former presidents always choose their artists.)

“His initial impulse was to elevate me,” Obama joked. “I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon. We’ve got to bring it down just a touch.”

Instead, Obama was placed in front of a simpler backdrop of greenery, which Wiley explained as “charting his path on Earth through those plants,” according to Washington Post reporter Dan Zak. In the painting, there is “a fight going on” between Obama and the plants, which, Wiley said, represent Obama’s story. The flowers featured grow in Illinois, Hawaii, and Kenya, he said.

“How about that?” Obama said after the portrait was unveiled. “That’s pretty sharp.”

The former president added a couple self-deprecating jokes: “I mean, there were a number of issues that we were trying to negotiate,” he said. “I tried to negotiate less grey hair. And Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do that. I tried to negotiate smaller ears. Struck out on that as well.”


“I am in awe of Kahinde’s gifts, and what he and Amy have given to this country, and to the world,” Obama said. “And we are both very grateful to have been the subject of their attention.”

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