WASHINGTON — When Barack Obama speaks, people listen. At least they did when he was in the White House. But that kind of authority didn’t hold much sway when it came time for his presidential portrait.
At a ceremony Monday to unveil portraits of him and former first lady Michelle Obama, the former president said artist Kehinde Wiley cheerfully ignored almost all of his suggestions.
‘‘He listened very thoughtfully to what I had to say before doing exactly what he always intended to do,’’ he said. ‘‘I tried to negotiate less gray hair but Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow it. I tried to negotiate smaller ears and struck out on that as well.’’
The final product depicts Obama sitting in a straight-backed chair, leaning forward, and looking serious while surrounded by greenery and flowers. Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted by Amy Sherald, shows her in a black-and-white dress, looking thoughtful with her hand on her chin.
Both artists were personally chosen by the Obamas.
The portraits will now hang in the National Portrait Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums.
The gallery has a complete collection of presidential portraits. A different set of portraits of the former first couple will eventually hang in the White House.
The unveiling attracted hundreds of friends, colleagues, and media Monday, including former Vice President Joe Biden, director Steven Spielberg, actor Tom Hanks, and television producer Shonda Rhimes.