I’d seen the new Obama portraits all over the media, so yesterday I subwayed down to the National Portrait Gallery to see them in person.

Obama Presidential portrait in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

The president’s portrait, on the second floor in the president’s gallery, I found so real, so intense, so HIM, it was hard to pull myself away from it.

But let’s get to the flowers and foliage, this being a gardenblog. (And thanks, artist Kehinde Wiley, for giving us an excuse to write about it here.) The flowers are: chrysanthemums (official flower of Chicago),  jasmine (evoking Hawaii, where Obama largely grew up) and African blue lilies (for Obama’s Kenyan father). I heard the artist explain that he chose elements that are “personal, decorative and historic,” and that’s all I’ve been able to find about his inspiration.

Damn. I was kind of hoping we’d learn about Obama’s as-yet unrealized but lifelong desire to garden. We’ll have to settle for applauding the use of flowers to tell the story of his life, though gardeners might have made the flowers a lot larger.

The leafy background, which I’d assumed to be Boston ivy, looks like no plant I’ve ever seen, so unless someone corrects me, I’m calling it a faux vine – a purely decorative element. (Update: Commenter John Boggan says they’re rose leaves and I believe him.)

LIne to see Obama Presidential portrait in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

Here’s the line to take close-ups and selfies with the president.

Johnson and Ford Presidential portraits in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

To give you some context, most modern presidential portraits here are staid and dull, like these.

Reagan and Kennedy Presidential portraits in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

These two are exceptions. Kennedy’s is by Elaine de Kooning. 

Portrait of Michelle Obama in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

The portrait of Michelle Obama is hanging in a hall on the first floor.  Like the president’s, it’s drawing a steady stream of camera-ready locals lining up for a selfie with her.

I found the portrait beautiful and interesting but ultimately…not her.

Portrait of female Supreme Court justices in National Portrait Gallery in Washington

One last portrait from elsewhere in the museum, just because.