National Portrait Gallery Unveils Obama Portraits

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Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama stand on stage together as their official portraits are unveiled at a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington on Feb. 12, 2018. /AP

The National Portrait Gallery in Washington has unveiled the official portaits of former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

For his portrait, the former president chose Kehinde Wiley -- a Yale University-trained painter famous for his vibrant portraits of African Americans.

"I want to thank everybody who is here, Michelle and I are so grateful for the friends and family, and former staff and current staff, who have taken the time to be here and honor us in this way and soak in the extraordinary art that we're seeing here. It means so much to us and I hope you are aware of that. We miss you guys," Obama told an audience at the museum.

Obama's portrait features him seated on a chair surrounded by foliage. Wiley said he used the botanicals as a way to chart the path of Obama, particularly noting his use of chrysanthemums, the state flower of Illinois, and flowers native to Kenya.

Wiley is the first African-American to paint an official presidential portrait.

Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-native Amy Sherald, known for focusing on shape and color above realism and themes of social Justice in her work. Mrs. Obama's portrait shows her seated, wearing a gown with geometric patterns against a plain backdrop.

"I'm also thinking about all of the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who will in years ahead come to this place... and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution," Mrs. Obama said.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Smithsonian museum group. It houses a complete collection of U.S. presidential portraits.

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