The portraits, as well as the artists commissioned, were kept secret until Wednesday. Obama chose artist Robert McCurdy to do his portrait, and Michelle Obama commissioned Sharon Sprung.
The former president said he was drawn to McCurdy’s work for its realistic depictions. “His work is so precise that a glance looks like a photograph,” Obama said.
“Presidents are so often retouched, even take on mythical status,” he said. “What I want people to take away from Michelle and me is that presidents and first ladies are human beings like everyone else. We have our gifts and we have our flaws.
Although Trump was not mentioned by name, Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of tradition and the peaceful transition of power.
“You see, people make their voices heard with their vote. We are holding an inauguration to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” she said. “And once our time is up, we move on. And all that remains in this sacred place are our good efforts. And those portraits, portraits that connect our history to the present day, portraits that hang here as history continues to be made.
First Lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff also attended the event, along with former Obama administration staffers.
Asked at a press conference on Tuesday whether Biden would hold the same ceremony for Trump if a portrait of him were made, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre referred questions to the White House Historical Association. .