Obama White House portrait to be unveiled at Sept. 7 event
Portraits of the former president and Michelle Obama will be presented in the East Room, as is traditional, on Sept. 7, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
“That’ll be very exciting,” Jean-Pierre said.
It will mark the first time the former first lady has returned to the White House since her husband left office in January 2017. The former president previously returned in April to mark the 12th anniversary of his signature health care law — and spent more than four hours meeting with Biden and greeting White House staff.
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden will host the Obamas for the occasion. As with previous such ceremonies, the artists and details about the artwork won’t be released until the day of the ceremony.
The private and nonprofit White House Historical Association has arranged portraits of recent presidents and first ladies since 1965, when it negotiated acquiring a portrait of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter unveiled the official White House portraits of former President Gerald Ford and former first lady Betty Ford in an East Room ceremony.
Carter later asked not to have a ceremony, according to the association, but most other former first couples have had one in their years since leaving office. The Obamas hosted the May 2012 unveiling of the portraits of former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush.
“I think it’s fair to say that every president is acutely aware that we are just temporary residents — we’re renters here,” Obama said then, of the White House. “We’re charged with the upkeep until our lease runs out. But we also leave a piece of ourselves in this place.”
Bush said he was honored and joked, “I am also pleased, Mr. President, that when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, what would George do?”
The White House portraits won’t be the Obamas’ first in Washington. They attended the unveiling of their portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018. Obama joked then that artist Kehinde Wiley cheerfully ignored his suggestions for that likeness to feature “less gray hair” and “smaller ears.”
This story has been updated to correct the name of the former first lady whose portrait was unveiled in 2012. It was Laura Bush, not Barbara Bush.