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'Laughing stock': Obama portraits divide public opinion

Former US President Barack Obama participates in the unveiling of his official portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. Source: AAP

The historic unveiling of the Obamas official portraits has sparked a frenzied social media response with thousands divided over Michelle's portrait.

The official portraits of former US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been unveiled to an adoring crowd at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

The 44th president and the first lady were in awe of the stunning larger-than-life portraits, painted by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, with Mr Obama complementing the "grace and beauty" of Mrs Obama's painting.

Despite the Obama's positive reaction, many social media users were divided over the portraits and whether or not the unique impressions were fitting.

A large majority of social media users and artists labelled Amy Sherald's depiction of Mrs Obama as "stunning", while plenty thought Kehinde Wiley captured Mr Obama's "decadence".

Some social media users pointed out the powerful image of Mr Obama painted in front of a garden created a new vision of masculinity.

Others on social media were not as convinced. Some argued that Mrs Obama's portrait did not look like her, but were reminded that artist Sherald's style was about "subtle" details.

Mr Obama, who was the first African-American US president, complimented Sherald for her portrait of Michelle.

"I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love," Mr Obama said at the event on Monday.

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was "less becoming".

"I tried to negotiate less grey hair and Kehinde's artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked," Mr Obama said. "I tried to negotiate smaller ears - struck out on that as well."

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.

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