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Barack and Michelle Obama to return to White House for portrait unveiling

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Former U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in the unveiling of their official portraits during a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The portraits were commissioned by the Gallery, for Kehinde Wiley to create President Obama's portrait, and Amy Sherald that of Michelle Obama. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

(CNN) — President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden will host former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on September 7 for the unveiling of their White House portraits, an Obama spokesperson told CNN.

While there had been a decades-long tradition of first-term American presidents hosting their immediate predecessors at the White House to unveil their official portraits, a ceremony for the Obamas never came during Donald Trump’s time in the Oval Office.

This will also be Michelle Obama’s first time back at the White House since she and her husband left in 2017, according to the spokesperson.

NBC News first reported on the unveiling ceremony plans.

Though the dynamic within the club of living American presidents has typically been described as apolitical and generally friendly, Trump’s entrance into office changed things.

Trump lashed out at his predecessor in unprecedented fashion. And the Obamas grew to criticize Trump explicitly and in personal terms.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which began during Trump’s time in office and continued into Biden’s tenure, has further complicated the prospect for in-person events at the White House.

The unveiling typically takes place in the White House’s East Room, where both the artists who created the pieces and the pieces themselves are unveiled at what’s generally known to be a bipartisan and collegial Washington affair.

Obama hosted George W. Bush in 2012; Bush hosted Bill Clinton in 2004; Clinton hosted George H.W. Bush in 1995; and the elder Bush hosted Ronald Reagan in 1989. First ladies also attend the ceremony and their portraits are unveiled as well.

Under a process administered by the White House Historical Association, presidents and first ladies typically choose a portraitist before leaving the White House. Sittings and final approval of the paintings occur afterward. Presidents and first ladies typically approve portraits before they’re unveiled to the public and inducted into the White House collection.

The association says all presidents since Jimmy Carter — who asked not to have a ceremony — have returned to the White House for an unveiling.

These portraits that sit in the White House are distinct from the portraits unveiled in 2018 for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington. The portraits commissioned by the portrait gallery are currently on an extended nationwide tour.

The Obamas selected Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sheraldare — portraitists known for their work depicting Black individuals — for their Smithsonian pieces. While living and working in the White House, the Obamas integrated a broad swath of modern and contemporary pieces across the White House and the residence.


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