Who Is Artist Amy Sherald?

Michelle Obama’s much-anticipated portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington on Feb 12. The former First Lady Michelle Obama’s decision to commission the Baltimore painter Amy Sherald for her official portrait was intriguing. 

In her official portrait, Michelle Obama is seated with one hand across her lap, the other under her chin. She wears a sleeveless, graphic white dress by designer Michelle Smith. Her skin is all in shades of gray like a charcoal drawing. That’s how Amy Sherald paints African-Americans, a style that apparently grabbed the first lady’s attention before they even met, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama is more subdued than Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama, but equally elegant.

Sherald is known for her signature greyscale black figures, bold poses, and luminescent washes of color with pops of bright hues. The Baltimore-based artist was the first woman to ever win the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

Michelle Obama said she was “thinking about all the young people — particularly girls and girls of color — who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up, and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall.”

The First Lady was defined by her no-nonsense charm, her easy beauty, her rhetorical gifts, her championing of healthy meals for the young and the poor. Some wonder if the portrait captures the personality and persona of Michelle Obama. Sherald’s body of work is compelling. What do you think the artists were trying to convey — and do you think they were successful? Did they capture the Obamas and their legacy accurately? Share in the comments below!

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