As part of our mission to shed light on individuals who have shaped American history, past and present, the National Portrait Gallery commissions artists to create portraits of contemporary game-changers. The first-prize winner of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition receives a cash award and the opportunity to make a new portrait of a living sitter for the museum’s permanent collection. Below are the portraits that were commissioned from each of the first-prize winners.

<i>Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama</i> by Amy Sherald

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald

Oil on linen, 2018

<i>Esperanza Spalding</i> by Bo Gehring

Esperanza Spalding by Bo Gehring

Single-channel video (color, sound), 2014

<i>Alice Waters</i> by Dave Woody

Alice Waters by Dave Woody

Inkjet print, 2010

<i>Eunice Kennedy Shriver</i> by David Lenz

Eunice Kennedy Shriver by David Lenz

Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2009

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama

by Amy Sherald
Oil on linen, 2018

Michelle Obama remembers growing up on the South Side of Chicago and thinking, “being smart is cooler than anything in the world.” After earning degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, she joined Sidley Austin LLP, where she met Barack Obama in 1989. Guided by the desire to improve her community, she left the firm in the mid-1990s to begin a career in public service. She directed community and external affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center prior to moving to Washington in 2009.

During her husband’s two presidential campaigns, Mrs. Obama delivered poignant speeches that centered on her family’s commitment to serving others and highlighted the importance of her role as a parent. As first lady, she focused on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, children’s health, and military families.
Mrs. Obama selected Amy Sherald, winner of the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, to create her official portrait for the museum. The Baltimore-based artist considers the former first lady to be someone “women can relate to—no matter what shape, size, race, or color…We see our best selves in her.” Here, she portrays Mrs. Obama as both confident and approachable, in a dress by Michelle Smith’s label Milly.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; Gift of Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia; Clarence, DeLoise, and Brenda Gaines; Jonathan and Nancy Lee Kemper; The Stoneridge Fund of Amy and Marc Meadows; Robert E. Meyerhoff and Rheda Becker; Catherine and Michael Podell; Mark and Cindy Aron; Lyndon J. Barrois and Janine Sherman Barrois; The Honorable John and Louise Bryson; Paul and Rose Carter; Bob and Jane Clark; Lisa R. Davis; Shirley Ross Davis and Family; Alan and Lois Fern; Conrad and Constance Hipkins; Sharon and John Hoffman; Audrey M. Irmas; John Legend and Chrissy Teigen; Eileen Harris Norton; Helen Hilton Raiser; Philip and Elizabeth Ryan; Roselyne Chroman Swig; Josef Vascovitz and Lisa Goodman; Eileen Baird; Dennis and Joyce Black Family Charitable Foundation; Shelley Brazier; Aryn Drake-Lee; Andy and Teri Goodman; Randi Charno Levine and Jeffrey E. Levine; Fred M. Levin and Nancy Livingston, The Shenson Foundation; Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago; Arthur Lewis and Hau Nguyen; Sara and John Schram; Alyssa Taubman and Robert Rothman © National Portrait Gallery

Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding by Bo Gehring

Digital video, 2014
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © National Portrait Gallery

Bo Gehring’s portraits are a visual and aural record of his subjects, who are seen lying flat and responding to a musical work of their own selection while a camera moves slowly overhead. The computer-controlled camera’s motion is synchronized exactly to the subject’s height and the duration of the music. Unlike Gehring’s previous portraits, the sitter here is a celebrity: the record-breaking bassist, composer, and singer Esperanza Spalding. Spalding won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist of 2011, a first for a jazz musician.

For her portrait’s musical component, Spalding chose “Tarde” (1974) by Wayne Shorter—an artist who greatly influenced Spalding—which includes Shorter on the tenor saxophone and Herbie Hancock on the electric piano. As the camera scans Spalding’s body, we see the shimmer and textures of her carefully selected clothing and jewelry, and at the end, a face enraptured by the music—a rare glimpse of a star enjoying a private moment.

Alice Waters

Alice Waters

by Dave Woody
Inkjet print, 2010

Chef, author, local food pioneer, and sustainable agriculture advocate Alice Waters has long championed a culinary philosophy centered on the importance of preparing and serving only the freshest, in-season, organic products. Since its founding in 1971, her award-winning Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California, has been at the forefront of a “delicious revolution” dedicated to challenging and changing the way that people think about food. The success of Waters’s farm-to-table campaign can be measured in part by the exponential increase in the number of restaurants, farmers’ markets, and mainstream grocery stores that now feature locally grown produce. Waters has also been the driving force behind the Edible Schoolyard movement, whose goal is to give students the opportunity to take an active part in all aspects of the food cycle—from cultivation to consumption.

Dave Woody’s photographs reflect his ongoing interest in “the relationship between the individual and their surrounding landscape.” His portrait of Alice Waters pictures her in the Edible Schoolyard garden she established in Berkeley in 1998.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; supported by a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and by the Marc Pachter Commissioning Fund as part of the first prize, Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2009 © National Portrait Gallery

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

by David Lenz
Oil and acrylic on canvas, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the creative force and organizer of Special Olympics, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization that provides training and competition in Olympic-style sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In 1962, she established a summer day camp at her home that became the basis for Special Olympics. In 1968, the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation, working with the Chicago Park District, organized the First International Special Olympics Summer Games. Currently, the Special Olympics serves more than 5.4 million athletes from 193 countries.

David Lenz was commissioned to paint this portrait as part of the first prize in the museum’s inaugural Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Lenz embraced the idea of making a portrait of Eunice Shriver that would also include five persons with intellectual disabilities who have been involved in Special Olympics and in the Best Buddies program: (left to right) Airika Straka, Katie Meade, Andy Leonard, Loretta Claiborne, and Martin “Marty” Sheets.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; commissioned as part of the First Prize, Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2006 © National Portrait Gallery