Oprah Winfrey Gets New Portrait At The National Portrait Gallery

The portrait by artist Shawn Michael Warren depicts Oprah Winfrey wearing a stunning purple dress and holding an olive branch. 

Oprah Winfrey is perhaps one of the most famous American personalities out there. Her brand and public persona so powerful, one only needs to hear the name “Oprah” to recognize it. The multi-hyphenated star spent years being a celebrated talk show host and television producer. However, she’s also an actress, author, and entrepreneur. Countless stars and emerging talents have appeared in her eponymous The Oprah Show, but the long-running talk show has also been a platform for the inspirational and motivational stories of everyday people.  

The 69-year-old’s profound impact on pop culture and contemporary society is undeniable. On December 13, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG) honored her legacy through a portrait by Chicago-based artist Shawn Michael Warren, reports Artnet News. Both Winfrey and Warren were present in the unveiling, which took place in the NPG, Washington D.C.

The portrait of Oprah Winfrey by Shawn Michael Warren, which is now at Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
The portrait of Oprah Winfrey by Shawn Michael Warren, which is now at Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery/Photo from the NPG website

READ ALSO: Poised Sophistication On Canvas: Portrait Of First ‘Hitchcock Blonde’ Madeleine Carroll To Be Auctioned In December

“I stand here on the eve of my 70th birthday, to have a portrait included in the National Portrait Gallery alongside all the greats: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and Ida B. Wells, Michelle and Barack Obama, Lena Horne, John F. Kennedy,” shared Winfrey during a statement

A Closer Look At Winfrey’s Portrait 

Artist Shawn Michael Warren had previously painted Winfrey in a mural at Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, as per CNN. It adds that Warren’s work took the talk show host’s “breath away.”

“I was so impressed by Shawn Michael Warren’s artistry, the creativity, the way he was able to capture a feeling of hope and inspiration and strength,” Winfrey shared in an Instagram video on the mural. 

Shawn Michael Warren and Oprah Winfrey posting beside her new portrait
Shawn Michael Warren and Oprah Winfrey /Photo via Instagram @smithsoniannpg

Now, Warren has created a new and official portrait for the celebrity who so admires his work. The oil on linen piece measures 70 ³⁄₁₆ × 56 ⅛ inches, as per the NPG’s official website. In it, Winfrey is smiling in a warm and playful manner. She wears a purple taffeta gown while holding an olive branch. In the backdrop is the “prayer garden” in Winfrey’s home, surrounded by majestic oak trees, as per NPG’s director of curatorial affairs, Rhea L. Combs

Faith And The Color Purple 

One might wonder why Oprah chose the striking color purple as the main color motif of her portrait and dress, but those familiar with the star’s history may easily guess why. Winfrey’s career in show business kicked off with her performance in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. Here, Winfrey played the character Celie—a strong black woman who faces years of abuse yet emerges strong despite it all. 

Willard E. Pugh as Harpo and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in 1985's "The Color Purple"
Willard E. Pugh as Harpo and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia in 1985’s “The Color Purple”/Photo from IMDb

Faith also plays a large role in Winfrey’s life and values, as the other visual motifs show. Twelve oak trees intertwine, representing the twelve disciples, as per NPG’s official website. Meanwhile, an olive branch is usually a symbol of peace in art. A Winfrey extends it, one can see that it complements the welcoming aura she exudes in the portrait. It may also be a symbol for how Winfrey and her work have brought people of all walks of life together in different ways. 

Oprah Winfrey and Prince in the Oprah Winfrey Show
Oprah Winfrey and Prince in the Oprah Winfrey Show/Photo from IMDb

“Through her rise to fame as host and producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah demonstrated an unparalleled ability to connect with people and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves,” shared NPG director Kim Sajet in a statement. “Her vision and spirit deserve recognition in the nation’s Portrait Gallery, and we are delighted to celebrate her with this commissioned portrait by Shawn Michael Warren, who has reflected her warmth and compassion in this painting.”

Banner photo via Instagram @smithsoniannpg.

Shop for LIFESTYLE ASIA’S magazines through these platforms.
Download LIFESTYLE ASIA’s digital magazines from:
Subscribe via [email protected]