Tue. Feb 7th, 2023

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will return to the White House in September for a special occasion: their official portraits are finally being unveiled, more than five years after they left the residence.

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will host the ceremony on September 7, according to Hannah Hankins, a spokesperson for the former president.

Back in 2018, portraits of the former first couple — done by Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley — were unveiled at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Both portraits received an unprecedented public response, the museum said back in 2020, when it announced they would be going on a nationwide tour.

Portrait unveiling of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12, 2018.

Pete Souza

It is not yet known which artist or artists did the Obamas’ White House portraits. It’s tradition that the artist is not disclosed until the unveiling ceremony.

The White House Historical Association has arranged portraits of recent presidents and first ladies since 1965, when it negotiated acquiring a portrait of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter unveiled the official White House portraits of former President Gerald Ford and former first lady Betty Ford in an East Room ceremony.

Carter later asked not to have a ceremony, according to the association, but most other former first couples have had one in their years since leaving office. The Obamas hosted the May 2012 unveiling of the portraits of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush.

“I think it’s fair to say that every president is acutely aware that we are just temporary residents — we’re renters here,” Obama said then of the White House. “We’re charged with the upkeep until our lease runs out. But we also leave a piece of ourselves in this place.”

Bush said he was honored and joked, “I am also pleased, Mr. President, that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, what would George do?”

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