Baltimore Insider

Michelle Obama portrait: What they're saying about Baltimore artist's big reveal

Former first lady Michelle Obama with artist Amy Sherald after unveiling her official portrait at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday, Feb. 12, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

After the official portrait for Michelle Obama, painted by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery on Monday morning, reactions to photos of the portrait on Twitter were largely critical.

While celebrated by some as elegant, others failed to see the resemblance between the portrait and its subject — regardless of its visual appeal.


Obama is depicted seated, her hair loose around her shoulders, in a floor-length dress reminiscent of the paintings by Piet Mondrian — and the quilts made by a black community in Alabama, according to Sherald.

Sherald applied her trademark “grayscale” style — a charcoal color with taupe undertones — that doesn’t so much erase her subject’s race as declare its irrelevance.


New York Times art critic Holland Cotter praised the portrait for radiating Michelle Obama’s “glam.” He wrote that it “overemphasizes an element of couturial spectacle, but also projects a rock-solid cool.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott praised the cultural significance of both portraits.

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But Sherald’s signature style didn’t sit well with some.

Yet the portrait also had defenders on social media, encouraging a closer look and a more understanding attitude to Sherald’s approach.

Sherald’s painting, along with a portrait of former president Barack Obama created by the New York-based artist Kehinde Wiley, were revealed Monday.

Sherald acknowledged that not everyone will like her work, but she does think her portrait looks like Michelle Obama. She was struck by how much the photographs resembled Malia Obama. “She had a very youthful look in the photographs,” she said. “I tried to create an ideal her.”


The presentation was attended by both artists, the Obamas, National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet and David J. Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.