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Obamas’ portraits unveiled at White House

Ex-president Barack Obama and his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, have returned to the White House to unveil their official portraits in an event punctuated by wisecracks but tinged with history and politics.

Hosted by fellow Democrat President Joe Biden more than five years after Obama left office, the Obamas basked in applause from former staff members and lauded the artists for capturing their images.

Artist Robert McCurdy put the grey-suited Barack Obama, the first black US president, at the centre of his canvas in a photorealistic portrait with a white background.

The former first lady is pictured in a blue dress in the White House’s Red Room, in a painting by Sharon Sprung.

“There are few people I have known with more integrity, more decency and more courage than Barack Obama,” Biden, his vice-president between 2009 and 2017, told the ceremony on Wednesday.

“Nothing could have prepared more for being president of the United States than being by your side for eight years.”

Customarily, a former president returns for the portrait unveiling during his successor’s tenure, but there was no a ceremony for the Obamas during Republican president Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump, before winning the 2016 election and succeeding Obama, pushed the “birther” movement that falsely suggested Obama was not born in the United States.

Obama thanked Biden for building on the work they did together and praised him for his decency and faith in US democracy.

On his portrait, Obama joked the artist “refused my request to make my ears smaller”.

“He also talked me out of wearing a tan suit,” he added to laughter, a reference to an unusual 2014 wardrobe choice that dominated Washington’s news cycle for days.

Michelle Obama appeared to take note of Trump’s to accept the results of the 2020 election, saying “once our time is up we move on”.

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