The artistry of empowerment: Oprah Winfrey's iconic portrait takes center stage in a sea of purple


In a hushed anticipation that fell over the room 10 minutes early, attendees at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery found themselves wondering: Was Oprah Winfrey in the room with them? From which curtain would she gracefully emerge? And the burning question on many minds: Would she be adorned in her signature purple?

Oprah Winfrey, the cultural icon at 69, has left an indelible mark on society through her accomplishments, spanning "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Oprah's Book Club, and her extensive philanthropic efforts, totaling hundreds of millions donated to various charities. This Wednesday morning, her portrait unveiling ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery continued the legacy of capturing attention and hearts.

Addressing a packed room, Oprah, on the eve of her 70th birthday, expressed her gratitude, stating, "To have a portrait included in the National Portrait Gallery, alongside all the greats: Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Ida B. Wells, Michelle and Barack Obama, Lean Horne, John F Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey…"

The courtyard of the Smithsonian was a sea of deep purple, with over 340 guests enjoying a spread of muffins, fruit, quiches, and donuts. Celebrity sightings included Gayle King, Ava DuVernay, and Christian Siriano. The purple theme resonated not only with her 2023 Favorite Things list but also with the upcoming release of "The Color Purple," a Winfrey-produced film hitting theaters on Christmas Day.

For the unveiling, Oprah donned a stunning purple taffeta Christian Siriano dress, resonating with her role as Sofia in the 1985 film "The Color Purple." The color, she explained, holds a special place in her heart, symbolizing her determination and self-betting, as she dedicated her leave time to complete the movie against all odds.

The 6-foot-10 inch by 5-foot-8-inch portrait, to be on display until October 2024, captures Oprah in her Montecito, California, prayer garden, holding an olive branch. Artist Shawn Michael Warren, who co-created a previous mural featuring Winfrey, emphasized the vulnerability conveyed in her most intimate space. The painting radiates patience, peace, and poise, reflecting the essence of a woman who has spent a lifetime in the public eye.

Warren shared insights into the creative process, noting a six-hour photoshoot day two years prior, during which he allowed Oprah's natural grace to guide the session. The oil painting on canvas took him 10 months, a labor of love he balanced with other ongoing projects.

The National Portrait Gallery's decision to commission a living subject is rare, with only about 35 such portraits created since 1994. Kim Sajet, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, underscored the institution's mission, established in 1962, to tell the stories of remarkable individuals shaping U.S. history and culture through the lens of accomplished artists.

As Oprah Winfrey approaches her 70th birthday, she remains committed to astonishing a "mean world" with acts of kindness, embodying the spirit encapsulated in a poem penned by Maya Angelou for her 50th birthday. The unveiling of her portrait stands as a testament to a life dedicated to making a significant impact on American history and culture.

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