The official presidential portraits of the Obamas travel from the Smithsonian to San Francisco for a summer stay at the De Young Museum.
Kehinde Wiley, “Barack Obama” (2018, oil on canvas), 81.4 inches by 58 inches.
It should surprise no one that the most impactful couple to inhabit the White House in the past 50 years also had the most transcendent official portraits painted of them. The works of Barack and Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, are part of The Obamas Portrait Tour of five American cities, which began in Chicago last summer. The Bay Area stop is at the de Young Museum. The paintings represent the first time Black artists were commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery to paint the official portraits of a president and first lady; more than 4 million visitors visited the paintings at the Portrait Gallery before the tour.
Amy Sherald, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama” (2018, oil on linen), 72.1 inches by 60.1 inches.
Each work goes beyond the staid portraiture of past first couples. President Obama stares into the middle distance wearing a suit and no tie; the unconventional backdrop is overgrown with chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago; white jasmine, a symbol of the state of Hawaii; and African blue lilies, an homage to the homeland of the president’s Kenyan father. The first lady appears at once open and guarded, wearing a dress designed by Michelle Smith, who pays tribute to Gee’s Bend quilters, a renowned group of Black women who’ve maintained the craft from their ancestors.
“Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama are groundbreaking American portraits that speak to the sense of hope and possibility that the Obamas inspire,” says Tom Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Both Wiley and Sherald are artists who work within the genre of Western portraiture painting while actively expanding and critiquing artistic conventions that have traditionally defined representations of power.” June 18-Aug. 14, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, 415.750.3600