A Portrait of Obama in the Final Days of His Presidency

Commissioned for Smithsonian magazine, this painting shows a leader at a crossroads

Oil portrait of Barack Obama
Oil portrait of Barack Obama by Kadir Nelson Kadir Nelson

This oil-on-panel portrait of Barack Obama was created by Kadir Nelson for this magazine a few months before the November election, so its deep expressiveness is all the more startling. From the warily crossed arms to the brow creased in quizzical detachment, the painting seems to depict the president looking back (or is it ahead?) at his legacy. “History will tell,” says Nelson, a Los Angeles artist who specializes in African-American subjects and is working on illustrations for a children’s book about the American flag, due out in June. It’s too soon to define Obama’s legacy, but Joseph J. Ellis, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Founding Brothers, predicts it will be impressive. “My view as a historian is that Obama will look like one of the most important presidents in post-World War II America,” he tells Smithsonian.

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