Official White House portraits of Obamas are less interesting than those in Portrait Gallery

I traveled into Chicago with a friend to view the exhibit of those paintings by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald in the spring of 2021.

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Former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama at the ceremony unveiling their official White House portraits.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

I was pleased to read that former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were invited back to the White House by President Joe Biden for the official unveiling of their formal White House portraits. However, I was very surprised to see that these portraits were not the two portraits that went on a year long, nationwide tour in 2021-2022, including a rather lengthy showing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I traveled into Chicago with a friend from the western suburbs to view that exhibit in the spring of 2021. We attended because we thought that we were looking at the official portraits of president and Mrs. Obama that would be hung in the White House at a later date. These portraits were very different from a typical presidential portrait. The portrait by artist Kehinde Wiley showed Barack Obama sitting with his arms crossed over his knees in front of an ivy-covered wall with flowers interspersed reflecting his heritage from Africa, Hawaii and Chicago.

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The portrait of Michelle Obama by artist Amy Sherald shows the first lady wearing a black and white dress with a splash of red rectangles in the skirt, original to say the least. Although I was originally doubtful as to whether these portraits were ‘serious’ enough to be presidential portraits, after I saw them on display, I was totally convinced that these very original portraits beautifully captured the essence and spirit of Barack and Michelle Obama.

Consequently, I was very surprised to learn that the portraits unveiled at the White House this week are a completely different set of portraits — and frankly, not nearly as interesting. This second portrait of President Obama looks more like a snapshot taken with any camera or cell phone. He is simply shown standing against an all-white background and staring at the viewer without any particular expression on his face. It is a boring portrait that is completely without ‘context’.

The portrait of Michelle Obama, while slightly more colorful, is still rather routine. It shows her sitting on a red couch wearing a pale blue gown. Neither of these portraits, which are in the National Portrait Gallery, moves me or does anything to reveal the unique personalities of Barack and Michelle Obama.

I am very glad that I did get to see the more original portraits. I am only sad that they will not be on display in the White House portrait gallery for future generations to enjoy.

Deirdre O’Neal, Naperville

Stop blaming Gov. Abbott

Mayor Lori Lightfoot should stop blaming Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for sending illegal immigrants to Chicago and start blaming President Joe Biden.

Biden’s border policies have encouraged millions of people to illegally enter our nation at the Texas border, which has overwhelmed Texas. Abbott is well within his rights to bus them to Chicago. Unfortunately, Chicago taxpayers are now on the hook for Lightfoot’s misguided welcoming policies.

We have thousands of legal citizens living in tents all over our city. Maybe our mayor should be more welcoming to them. Charity begins at home. 

Mike Kirchberg, Little Italy

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