Art of Our Presidents, Iconic Images Illustrate History

Presidential Portraits of the Obamas, Barack and Michelle
Iconic portraits by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald: Kehinde’s oil on canvas of President Barack Obama and Amy’s oil on linen of First Lady Michele Obama

Art of Barack and Michelle Obama in the Smithsonian

Thanks to patriotic benefactors, two prestigious portraits now hang in the Smithsonian: Kehinde Wiley’s oil on canvas of Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s oil on linen of Michelle Obama, our 44th President and First Lady. These insightful character studies offer a measure of creativity and embody the essence of why America fell in love with Barack and Michelle and elected them our First Family.

The unveiling ceremony, February, 12, 2018, was part of the Smithsonian’s  50th milestone anniversary of its Portrait Gallery.

Who do  you want to paint your portrait, Mr. President?

Can you imagine being the artist getting receiving a call from the White House? Would you paint my portrait?

After the unveiling at the Smithsonian, I Googled artists  Amy and Kehinde to follow their stories and art on Instagram.

The portraits exude energy and reflect a modern style, as a mirror to the Obama’s in real life.

BarackOil on canvas portrait at the Smithsonian of former President Barack Obama
Barack Obama at the Smithsonian

The dramatic background of flowers and greenery in the portrait of President Obama have meaning to Barack. Chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago, where Barack began his political career. Jasmine is emblematic of Hawaii, his birthplace and childhood home. And the African, blue lilies honor his late Kenyan father.

Oil on linen painting of Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian by Amy Sherald
Michelle Obama at the Smithsonian

Amy Sherald portrayed Michelle as one who “women can relate to—no matter what shape, size, race, or color. . . . We see our best selves in her.”

Michelle Obama was styled for the portrait wearing a dress by American designer Michelle Smith, of the label Milly. The geometric print exudes style and forward thinking, traits Amy sees in Michelle and ones she wanted to portray in her art. The halter-cut, bare-shoulder gown design is reminiscent of styles we saw Michelle wear as First Lady.

Former President Barack Obama’s portrait can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution in America’s Presidents gallery and Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait for the First Lady’s Gallery is currently hanging in the Recent Acquisitions gallery.

Iconic Images of Our Presidents and their First Ladies in Art and Photography

My penchant to find iconic images of great leaders who graced the halls of the White House began when I viewed Khinde Wilde’s portrait of Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle.

  • Look Magazine commissioned Norman Rockwell to paint Richard Nixon.
  • The portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart is engraved on our $1-dollar bill. Martha Washington requested that Gilbert paint a portrait of George for her to hang on the walls in their home. That iconic image, aka, “The Athenaeum Portrait,” is seen every time we hold a dollar bill.
  • A portrait of President Donald J. Trump by photographer Michael O’Brien in the Smithsonian heralds Trump as entrepreneur and business man, before he became POTUS 45. A bevy of portraits, caricatures, and photos to come of Trump, for sure. I inked an unofficial Trump caricature, titled “Trump Card.”
POTUS 45, Donald J. Trump by Michael O'Brien, Smithsonian, President's Hall
POTUS 45 photographed by Michael O’Brien, 1990, Smithsonian
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, painted by Eleanor Roosevelt by Herman Perlman
Eleanor Roosevelt
  • There are seven images of First Lady  Eleanor Roosevelt in the First Ladies Gallery, Much ado over a lady who shaped American culture and the Presidency of husband Franklin Roosevelt. My favorite shows her affable side, a tempura-on-illustration-board by Herman Perlman, whose art regularly appeared in The Washington Post.
  • Teddy Roosevelt charging on a white elephant in Africa illustrated by Flagg for Life Magazine
    Flagg’s iconic illustration of TR for Life Magazine, 1910

    President Theodore Roosevelt’s portrait appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in 1910. Painted by James Montgomery Flagg, it illustrates the dichotomy of a President who championed wildlife conservation and loved to hunt, particularly big game.

 

I prefer endearing character studies that offer insight into the lives and beings of historical figures to anything stuffy or pretentious. Down with portraits in front of bookcases, desks, windows, porticoes, staircases … with an Edwardian chair or velvet chesterfield looming in the background.

Not all Presidents make it onto our currency, but some do …

To see sculptures, photographs, and portraits of our Presidents and their first ladies as seen at the Smithsonian, take a Tour from your sofa!

Published by

Patricia Wiskur

My love for art comes from years in the studio of Wiskur Productions, with my husband, Darrell Wiskur, a designer and photographer. Also, I was an editor and photographer in the real world for 17 years ... all the while, thankful for an artful life and cherished memories. Photos are ©2018 Darrell D. Wiskur