Object Image

She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them

Amy Sherald titled this portrait with a line from Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston's novel about a strong, independent woman, Their Eyes Were Watching God. The passage underscores the division between the woman's outward appearance and inner world. In this portrait, although the woman is the object of our gaze, she controls what she reveals to us. Former first lady Michelle Obama selected Sherald to paint her official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery (reproduced below). Sherald is renowned for painting Black figures with grayscale skin against monochromatic backdrops. She uses this technique to challenge how people equate skin color with racial identities. Her focus on representing Black Americans addresses the historical absence of such portraits from much of art history and many museums.

Lent by Bill and Christy Gautreaux Collection, Kansas City

Oil on canvas
54.0 x 43.0in
Text: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 2023
Image: Amy Sherald

Where you'll find this

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Permanent collection