Oprah Winfrey portrait unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey stands beside a newly commissioned portrait of herself that unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery on Dec. 13, along with Chicago-based artist Shawn Michael Warren, who painted the portrait. (Credit: Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer) 

by Brenda C. Siler

The Washington Informer

Oprah Winfrey called it an unimaginable dream when considering the portrait of her revealed Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

Painted by Chicago artist Shawn Michael Warren, a few hundred people gasped and applauded when the drape was pulled from the painting. Winfrey was shown standing in her prayer garden at her home in Montecito, California, wearing a purple taffeta dress designed by Christian Siriano.

The framed portrait is nearly seven feet tall and was unveiled in the museum’s Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard.  The commissioned work of art is now hanging at the Portrait Gallery for public viewing.

In her remarks, Winfrey reflected on her feelings leading up to the unveiling when gazing out her window from her home. Winfrey’s gratitude was felt through an emotional message.

“The view was so beautiful. The light was so perfect,” said Winfrey. “I stepped back and did a rewind to ensure that I was alive and breathing, and it wasn’t just in a dream.”

Warren noted the incredible honor to have painted a piece for the National Portrait Gallery.

“It’s been a pleasure to add your portrait to this institution into the canons of art history,” said Warren, who introduced Winfrey. “Understanding the tradition of the art of portraiture, you could have chosen anyone. But you saw fit that an artist from the place you called home during your rise to prominence should be given this honor.”

Painting Winfrey is not new for Warren. One of his latest works is a life-size mural of Winfrey co-created with artists Jane Barthes, Anna Murphy, and Kalan Strauss in 2020. That mural is located in Chicago’s West Loop, where Winfrey’s Harpo Studios filmed The Oprah Winfrey Show.  In introducing Winfrey, his words were directed not only to a media mogul, but his friend and muse.

Winfrey has long supported the Smithsonian, especially the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Her verbal and financial support has been acknowledged in many ways, including an auditorium in her name in that museum. Lonnie G. Bunch, III, Ph.D. 14th secretary of the Smithsonian spoke about Winfrey’s impact.

From left: Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, Rhea Combs, director of Curatorial Affairs, Lonnie G. Bunch, III, secretary of the Smithsonian, Oprah Winfrey and artist Shawn Michael Warren stand beside a newly commissioned portrait of Winfrey, painted by Warren, during an unveiling ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery on Dec. 13. (Ja’Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

“Being part of the Smithsonian means that you are permanently remembered. It’s an honor not everybody gets, but it’s well deserved,” said Bunch. “I think what Oprah has helped us do is she helped America understand who we are today. More importantly, Oprah pointed America toward what it can become.”

Gayle King, “CBS Morning” co-anchor and Winfrey’s best friend, was in the audience for the occasion.

“She didn’t know what she was going to say,” said King. “But of course, she spoke from her heart. She was Oprah.”

Warren emphasized the importance of Winfrey’s likeness in a place like the National Portrait Gallery, which attracts people from around the nation and world. He offered a call for the arts institution.

“Thank you for being the cultural hub in which Miss Winfrey and I deposited our contribution to art history in world history,” said Warren. “We are leaving with one request. That the Portrait Gallery continues to guide, protect, and foster meaningful relationships with artists. That includes the social part of chronicling, the game changers, and happenings of our society.”

The National Portrait Gallery is at Eighth and G streets NW in Washington, D.C. The Oprah Winfrey portrait is a part of the permanent collection at the gallery.

For more information, go to npg.si.edu.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.



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