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The Famed Barack and Michelle Obama Portraits May Be Coming to a City Near You

Sean Neumann

If you live in one of a few large cities across the country, you won’t have to travel to Washington, D.C., to take a look at the famous portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The National Portrait Gallery announced Thursday that the paintings will hit the road next summer, traveling to museums in five different cities in order to make it easier for more Americans view them.

“Since the unveiling of these two portraits of the Obamas, the Portrait Gallery has experienced a record number of visitors, not only to view these works in person, but to be part of the communal experience of a particular moment in time,” National Portrait Gallery Director Kim Sajet said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

“This tour is an opportunity for audiences in different parts of the country to witness how portraiture can engage people in the beauty of dialogue and shared experience,” Sajet said.

The Obama portraits will begin touring in June 2021, with the first stop at the Art Institute of Chicago. The portraits will continue to the Brooklyn Museum in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and then finally to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The tour is expected to last until May 2022.

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The Obamas (middle) stand in front of their Smithsonian portraits, painted by Kehinde Wiley (left) and Amy Sherald (right)
Visitors looking at Kehinde Wiley's portrait of President Barack Obama in June 2018. | George Rose/Getty Images
Former first lady Michelle Obama stands next to her Smithsonian portrait, painted by Amy Sherald. | Olivier Douliery/ABACA USA/INSTARimages.com

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The Smithsonian unveiled its portraits of the Obamas back in early 2018, leaving Mrs. Obama, 56, “overwhelmed, humbled, proud and grateful.”

The works were the first official presidential portraits at the Smithsonian to be created by black artists.

President Obama, 58, had his portrait painted by Nigerian-American Kehinde Wiley. The painting depicts him sitting in front of foliage that’s representative of his roots, including chrysanthemums (Chicago’s official flower) and jasmine (a common flower in Hawaii, where he grew up).

Mrs. Obama’s portrait was painted by Amy Sherald and shows her posed against a light-blue background with her chin rested on her hand, her black-and-white dress (with bits of color) filling out the bottom of the frame.

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The Obamas commissioned Sherald and Wiley and were struck by the finished works, unveiled two years ago.

Their portraits have been visited by millions of Americans since being hung in February 2018, even mesmerizing one three-year-old girl whose admiration became a viral sensation.

President Obama joked that he had tried to negotiate with Wiley to give him less grey hairs in the portrait and said he asked the artist to rein in any details that would present the two-term president in any sort of dramatic way.

“Maybe the one area where there were some concessions was … Kehinde’s work elevates [his subjects] and puts them in these fairly elaborate settings. And so his initial impulse maybe in the work was to also elevate me and put me in these settings with partridges and scepters, and thrones and chifforobes and mounting me on horses. And I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon,” Obama said in 2018. “We’ve got bring it down just a touch. And that’s what he did.”