Michelle Obama’s portrait is so popular it had to be moved

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Michelle Obama Portrait Relocated Due to Higher Demand The former first lady's portrait is so popular, According to the Smithsonian Institution data, Obama's artwork brought in 176,700 visitors in the month of February. Last week, 45,000 more visitors came in from Thursday to Sunday. The Amy Shepard painting was unveiled at the gallery last month, as well as Kehinde Wiley's portrait of Barack Obama.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

WASHINGTON — They arrive at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., with one mission.

“Where are the Obamas?” one of the ladies asks.

The information desk attendant directs them to the second-floor America's Presidents gallery, where hordes of people are taking photos of the portrait, with or without them in it. Yes, there are many selfies taken.

Former U.S. president Barack Obama’s portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley and unveiled last month, can be seen in the center of the gallery, not far from George Washington’s portrait. He is surrounded by plants in the portrait — flowers from Illinois, Kenya and Hawaii, the places that molded him.

“He was very different from any other president and his portrait makes sense,” says Mary Jean Collins, a D.C. resident.

“There’s life in this,” says her friend, Rosemary Trowbridge.

» Little girl captivated by Michelle Obama's portrait thought she was a queen

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s portrait by artist Amy Sherald was recently moved to a third-floor gallery.

The portrait was originally in the recent acquisitions exhibition space on the first floor. The plan was always to move her to the third-floor 20th Century Americans gallery but she proved to be too popular and had to be relocated sooner.

“Due to the high volume of visitors, we’ve relocated Michelle Obama’s portrait to the 3rd floor in our 20th Century Americans galleries for a more spacious viewing experience,” the gallery tweeted earlier this month.

The portraits of former U.S. president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have increased visitation numbers at the National Portrait Gallery.

Last month, the museum had 176,700 visitors, its biggest month in the last three years.

» Michelle Obama dances with little girl photographed gazing at her Smithsonian portrait

The museum is still seeing high numbers of visitors this month, with 44,612 people showing up from Thursday to Sunday of this week. The museum store has sold out of Obama products and has had to order more merchandise.

On a recent afternoon, Correy Matthews, a guard at the museum, answers questions from inquisitive visitors. His job is to stand guard of the president’s portrait and he does it well, asking some people with backpacks to put them on display on their chests rather on their backs so that he can keep watch.

He says that for a while, the museum had to add another guard for the portrait because there were so many visitors.

He’s not jaded, though. “It’s still amazing,” he says.

Mary Caudle, mayor of Triana, Ala., stops by before heading back home from a conference.

“I couldn’t miss this,” she says. “I think he was for all of Americans.”

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Joan Condon is visiting from Cape Cod, Mass. She’s teary-eyed as she studies the president’s painting.

“Obama is portrayed as the extraordinary leader of integrity, intelligence and inspiration that he was for all of his eight years,” she says. “Whether left, middle or right, you feel like he’s looking at you as an individual as he always did.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama’s portrait by artist Amy Sherald is drawing its own crowds in the third-floor gallery.

Her portrait is now located off the Great Hall that was home to Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural ball and was at one time the longest room in America. It was also used as a hospital during the Civil War, where Walt Whitman helped nurse soldiers.

The room is filled with people taking their photos in front of her.

“She’s composed. That’s what she was as first lady under fire,” says Jessica Pater, who is visiting from Atlanta.

Shanta Tolin and her daughter Katriel, 17, have traveled from outside of Detroit to check out colleges in D.C. In between breaks from touring the campuses of Georgetown and George Washington, they decide to stop by to see the former first lady. Tolin sees her as an inspiration for her daughter. The portrait, she says, displays that.

“It captures her grace and elegance and strength,” Tolin says.

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