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Obamas and Bidens gather at the White House for official portrait unveiling

Former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama return to the White House on Wednesday, reuniting with current President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden to unveil their official portraits and introduce the artists behind them – a secret longtime in Washington after an unusually long wait for their revelation.

“President Biden and Dr. Biden are honored to have former President Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama return to the White House for the unveiling of their portraits, which will hang on the walls of the White House forever as reminders of the power of hope and change,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

The ceremony returns to the White House after a 10-year hiatus. It was then-President Obama who last held such a ceremony, when he hosted former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush for the unveiling of their official portraits in 2012.

Public unveiling of presidential portraits as we know them today began in 1978 during the Carter administration, according to White House Historical Association President Stuart McLaurin.

“The Carters were the first to invite the Fords back for their portrayal reveal. Before that, they were just a bit hung up when they were done,” McLaurin said.

Since then, an unofficial tradition has begun whereby the current president would host his newest predecessor at the White House for the event with a few exceptions – events that have often been bipartisan with good-natured ribs.

“George, I will always remember the gathering you held for all living former presidents before I took office, your kind words of encouragement. Additionally, you also left me a great bouquet of TV sports. I use it,” Obama joked in 2012 of George W. Bush.

In this May 31, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama applauds former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington D., where Bush’s portraits were unveiled.

Charles Dharapak/AP, FILE

The tradition was notably broken during the Trump presidency, with the former president avoiding the event – a move perhaps unsurprising, given Trump’s baseless claims that Obama spied on his 2016 presidential campaign and n was not born in the United States.

Despite the wait, McLaurin said today’s White House event will be a “happy and positive” moment for the Obamas.

“There’s a sense of anticipation and excitement about it. And the president and the first lady who are depicted in these portraits have of course seen them, but the reality of having them unveiled in full size there in the room is from the White House. It’s just a moment – it’s almost like Christmas morning,” he said.

The process of creating the portraits begins at the end of an outgoing president’s term, with the selection of an artist they would like to complete their portrait. The White House Historical Association, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization established in 1961 by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, then hires the artist to complete the historic image.

According to McLaurin, it usually takes three to four years for the portraits to be completed, but there is no deadline for the process.

Obama’s portraits have been completed for “a few years”, he said.

Regarding Trump’s official portrait, McLaurin said the artists had been identified and hired for the portraits of the former president and first lady, but had no further details on where they were. were in the process.

“Usually they would have conversations or they would talk about style and process and things in the background. Sometimes presidents or first ladies put things that have meaning or purpose or tell a story behind them,” said said McLaurin.

“I don’t know to what extent it went with the Trumps. I know their artists have been identified,” he added.

After its establishment in 1961, the White House Historical Association set out to acquire portraits for every former president and first lady to complete the collection of iconic images of the nation’s leaders.

“You know, with the founding fathers and the first presidents, Americans didn’t know what their presidents looked like,” McLaurin said. “Americans depended on these images that were created and broadcast across the United States.”

“As contemporary modern presidents, we are oversaturated with what they look like every day. So for me, the interesting take on these portraits is that this is really how a president and a first lady see themselves and how they want to be remembered.”

ABC News

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