Obama White House portraits stir strong reactions online

​The White House unveiling of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday drew out social media users’ inner art critics. ​

The Obamas appeared together at the White House for the first time since the 44th president left office in 2017 as guests of President Biden and first lady Jill Biden for a ceremony in the East Room.

The former president is depicted in his portrait by Robert McCurdy wearing a black suit and gray tie, standing with his hands in his pockets against a white background. 

Artist Sharon Sprung showed Michelle Obama reclining on a sofa in the Red Room of the White House while wearing a soft blue dress.

​​The portraits were painted from photographs of the former first couple. ​

Some social media users thought the painting of Barack Obama was a little too real. 

An image of President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama, and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama at the White House ceremony to unveil the official Obama White House portraits.
Getty Images

“Not gonna lie, I’ve zoomed in about a dozen times on President Obama’s portrait to see if it was a photo or an actual painting,” said journalist Kris Pangilinan on Twitter.

Another user thought the image lacked creativity.

“I don’t like it when a painted portrait tries to be a photograph. I wish there had been more imagination in it. #Obama,” posted user GoodNeighborDave.

Others didn’t appreciate the white backdrop.

Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama standing next to their White House portraits.
The portraits of the former president and first lady had social media users express their opinions on the artworks.

“Obama’s portrait is a wonderful likeness but I’m not liking that stark white background,” said Maylene Movie Star. “Michelle’s doesn’t look much like her and seems stiff and amateurish.”

“It’s literally a meme,” Spectator contributing editor Stephen L. Miller said of the former president’s portrait.

Another user agreed, tweeting: “They will soon learn how regretful a choice the white background was. The only thing that would’ve been worse for him is if they’d painted him holding up a white sign.”

“Photorealistic on a white background. A work of undeniable skill but in service of nothing remarkable. Truly bland, mistaking technical sophistication with having anything of interest to say. No artistic merit save for the lack thereof,” a third said, adding: “A perfect portrait of Obama.”

Meanwhile, the former first lady’s outfit reminded National Republican Senatorial Committee staffer Quinn Gasaway of a certain children’s TV show.

“Michelle is literally on the Blues Clues​ set,” he wrote.

The White House portrait of Barack Obama.
Former President Barack Obama’s portrait was painted by Robert McCurdy.

The White House portrait of Michelle Obama.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait was painted by Sharon Sprung.

Others were more forgiving.

“The Michelle Obama portrait is stunning,” one Twitter user said. “Beautiful painting.”

“Dear President and First Lady Obama, Congratulations,” comedian Paula Poundstone tweeted. “The portraits look beautiful because the subjects are.”

​”​The portraits capture the deep beauty, intelligence, and hope of​ ​@POTUS44​ ​and Flotus​ ​@MichelleObama​,” said Bernice Garcia Baca on Twitter.​ “The stark contrast of just President Obama against a bare white background symbolizes as much as anything could the meaning of his presence and position in the White House.​”​​

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