Barack Obama portrait
Michelle Obama portrait
Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama

A new portrait of former US president Barack Obama and former first lady, Michelle Obama, have been unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The paintings were created by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively.

The Obamas selected Wiley and Sherald before leaving the White House, making them the first African-Americans to be commissioned for the gallery's official portraits of the president and first lady.

First commissioned with George H. W. Bush in 1994, the gallery began including portraits of the first lady in 2006 with Hillary Clinton.

Wiley's image of former president Obama will become a permanent fixture in the gallery's 'American Presidents' exhibition.

Internationally renowned for his portraits of African-Americans painting in poses resembling famous figures of western art, Wiley was described by the gallery as using a "rich, highly saturated colour palette" and decorative patterns that "complement his realistic, yet expressive, likenesses".

The portrait of Obama on a wooden chair backed by foliage is a subtle reference to the former president's life, the gallery noted. The flowers present include the official flower of Chicago, chrysanthemums; jasmine, symbolising Hawaii; and African blue lilies for Obama's late father.

Sherald is known for "stylized, archetypal portrayals of African Americans", the gallery noted, adding that she gets across the inner strength of her subject through calm expressions and confrontational poses. Michelle Obama is depicted in a dress by Michelle Smith's label Milly.

"For 50 years, the National Portrait Gallery has told the story of America through the people who have impacted this country's history and culture," National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet said.

"We are thrilled to present to the nation these remarkable portraits of our 44th president, Barack Obama, and former First Lady, Michelle Obama, painted by two of the country's most dynamic contemporary artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

"As a museum of history and art, we have learned over the past half century that the best portraiture has the power to bring world leaders into dialogue with everyday Americans. These two paintings fall into that category, and we believe they will serve as an inspiration for generations to come."