Barrack and Michelle Obama's portraits revealed at National Portrait Gallery

Artist Kehinde Wiley and Barack Obama participate in the unveiling of Obama's portrait. REUTERS  Jim Bourg

Artist Kehinde Wiley and Barack Obama participate in the unveiling of Obama's portrait. REUTERS Jim Bourg

Barack Obama's presidential portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday.

Opinions on art, like politics, are passionate and fiercely held.

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Very well-done, artists! And their selection shows that the Obamas have taste.

Amy Sherald is based out of Baltimore and known for her life-size paintings of African Americans. "These artists were commissioned... because of how they work and a particular viewpoint".

On Twitter, reactions to the portraits quickly poured in - with a mixture of admiration and mockery. Do you share that view? "[Her] dress is like a mountain", said Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo on Tuesday night on "The Ingraham Angle" about the just-released painting of former first lady Michelle Obama.

Sherald does a couple of things that may lessen the sense of verisimilitude. Her skin is painted grey, a signature style by Sherald, who does it in order to take away the assigned color of her subjects. Wiley is well-known for his depictions of African Americans in grandiose settings, and Obama joked that he had to ask him to tone it down for the piece. To retain a likeness, they had to be photographed, which was cheaper and more accessible.

Michelle Obama's likeness will hang at the gallery until November this year. Of the dress's silhouette she added, "The dress reveals her handsome shoulder and arms, which I think is very groundbreaking in a portrait of the First Lady".

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The post argues that the president's portrait is secretly perverted - and subtly hateful toward white people - on the basis of two sentences from a pair of years-old stories on Wiley's work.

"We've had a long, somewhat hard history with our portraits in this country", says Mercer. These video portraits move slowly up the length of the body, only revealing the face at the end.

Both paintings will be displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, part of the national Smithsonian museums, in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Obama is painted against a bright-blue background, and she is wearing a vibrant dress. And, what is it? Other portraits were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other means. She's not centered in her painting, but rising above the center. Sherald has a significant career, but has only in her 40s emerged on the national stage. "She turned to me and said, 'I really hope that you and I can work together.' " That's when "Barack kind of faded into the woodwork", she recounted, and she and Sherald quickly bonded with "that kind of sista-girl connection" and trust a successful portrait requires. "Attorney General Holder! I hear you're running for president!" But these portraits will remind future generations how much wish fulfillment was embodied in the Obamas, and how gracefully they bore that burden.

Close-up of Obama's vein in his official portrait.

Smith told Glamour that she had worked with Michelle's stylist, Meredith Koop, many times during the Obama presidency and had received a special request for the gown in Michelle's portrait.

President Obama perhaps foresaw the conversation that would be sparked by the paintings.

Philip Kennicott, the Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic for The Washington Post, wrote that "The first lady inhabits a world of calm, clarity and Wedgwood-hued enlightenment". Portraiture is considered to be a bit of an old-fashioned backwater in the larger art world, so there will be people who sniff at the whole idea of making a traditional likeness of an important woman.

Ms Obama heaped praise on Ms Sherald's work. "I see something bigger in them, something more symbolic, an archetype".

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