The National Portrait Gallery tells the stories of America through the individuals who have built our national culture. The Portrait Gallery’s collection of more than 23,000 portraits is one of the finest in the world and features likenesses that are valued for both their subjects and the artists who created them. Through the visual arts, the performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists who speak our history. It is where the arts keep us in the company of remarkable Americans.
The National Portrait Gallery, which opened to the public in 1968, is housed in one of Washington’s oldest public buildings, a National Historic Landmark that was begun in 1836 for the U.S. Patent Office. One of the nation’s best examples of Greek Revival architecture, the building in 2006 underwent an extensive renovation that showcases its most dramatic architectural features, including skylights, a curving double staircase, porticos, and vaulted galleries illuminated by natural light. The enclosed Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, with its distinctive glass canopy designed by the architectural firm of Foster + Partners, provides a light-filled, 28,000-square-foot space for the museums’ café, public programs and special events. The Portrait Gallery shares this building with the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the two museums and their associated facilities are collectively known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Staff offices and research facilities, including the library and the Archives of American Art, are located in the Victor Building, one block north.
In addition to displays from its permanent collection, the Portrait Gallery mounts temporary exhibitions, including portraits and other works of art and historical documents that are borrowed from outside sources. Generally, these exhibitions take one of three forms: thematic exhibitions on a wide range of historical subjects, surveys of portraiture by American artists, including photographers, and iconographic studies dealing with the life of a given individual. The Portrait Gallery also organizes smaller exhibitions that recognize anniversaries of important events or special contemporary interests. Symposia, lectures, and publications are important elements of the museum’s program.
As a national resource center for biography and portraiture, the Portrait Gallery offers a wide range of services to the researcher in addition to the special expertise of its curatorial and research staff. The extensive permanent collection comprises portraits in all media including painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, photographs and media arts. Objects not on view may be seen by appointment. Special collections include portraits of the presidents of the United States, the Frederick Hill Meserve collection of Civil War era portrait negatives from Mathew Brady’s studio; the Time magazine cover art collection; the Saint-Mémin collection of more than seven hundred portrait engravings; the Ruth Bowman and Harry Kahn Twentieth-Century American Self-Portrait collection; and a collection of Jo Davidson portrait sculptures of early twentieth-century Americans.
The Collections Information & Research office (CIR) administers reference and online programs for the National Portrait Gallery. Services to researchers include the National Portrait Gallery’s Collections Information System; the Portrait Gallery’s Web site (www.npg.si.edu) which features collections, exhibitions, programs, and a portrait search menu; and the Catalog of American Portraits, a national portrait archive maintaining images and data for nearly 200,000 portraits in public and private collections. The curatorial files are rich in materials pertinent to portraits in the permanent and support collections. The library contains 160,000 volumes, principally on American art, history, and biography, along with more than a thousand periodicals. It offers selected electronic resources, and houses an extensive collection of clippings and pamphlets pertaining to American art and art institutions.
The Department of Audience Engagement develops innovative programs in museum education as part of its efforts to introduce important Americans in the National Portrait Gallery collection – along with their significant contributions to American society – to visitors of all ages. The department works toward improving communication techniques used by volunteer docents and gallery educators, and provide teachers with effective object-based learning strategies and curriculum aids through specialized workshops.
Asleson, Robyn, Curator, Department of Prints, Drawings. B.A. (1983) Yale University; M.A. (1986) Yale University; Ph.D. (1992) Yale University. Research specialties: Transatlantic cultural exchange from the 17th to the early 20th century; theatrical portraiture and the visual culture of celebrity; the natural world and American identity; the Aesthetic Movement; James McNeill Whistler. Contact: Asleson@si.edu
Caragol, Taína B., Curator of Latino Art and History; Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture. B.A. (2000) University of Puerto Rico; M.A. (2001) Middlebury College; Ph.D. (2014) The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Research specialties: Latin American and US Latino modern and contemporary art; art from the Nuyorican movement; history of institutional support to modern Latin American and Latino art in the US and the UK. Contact: CaragoIT@si.edu
Combs, Rhea, Director of Curatorial Affairs. B.A. Howard University; M.A. Cornell University, Ph.D. Emory University. Research Specialties: Visual culture, film, photography, race, and gender. Contact: CombsR@si.edu
Ickes, Charlotte, Curator of Time-Based Media Art and Special Projects. B.A. (2008) Yale University; M.A. (2011) University of Pennsylvania; Ph.D. (2016) University of Pennsylvania. Research specialties: contemporary art; time-based media art; film theory; Black studies; feminist theory and art; transatlantic cultural exchange; art and design. Contact: IckesC@si.edu
Lemay, Kate C., Historian. B. A. Syracuse University (2001); M. A. Indiana University (2008); Ph.D. Indiana University (2011). Research specialties: American Art of the 20th century; material culture and memory of war in transatlantic contexts; gender and race theory in contemporary art. Contact: LemayK@si.edu
Moss, Dorothy, Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture. B.A. (1995) Smith College; M.A. (1999) Williams College; Ph.D. (2012) University of Delaware. Research specialties: Contemporary portraiture and performance art; visual culture of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century United States; the uses and meanings of copies, translations, and reproductions in the nineteenth century, primarily in the United States; the development of mass culture in the United States. Contact: MossD@si.edu
Shumard, Ann, Senior Curator of Photographs. B.A. (1976) Scripps College. Research specialties: History of American portrait photography, with an emphasis on nineteenth and early twentieth-century portraiture; African American history and portraiture during the antebellum period, particularly the work of daguerreotypist Augustus Washington. Contact: ShumardA@si.edu
Ureña, Leslie, Associate Curator, Department of Photographs. B.A. (1999) Yale University; M.A. (2003) and Ph.D. (2009) Northwestern University. Research specialties: 20th-century and contemporary photography; cultural identity; art of social practice; Lewis Hine; immigration and urban studies. Contact: UrenaLJ@si.edu
Affiliated Research Staff
Fortune, Brandon Brame, Chief Curator. B.A. (1976) Agnes Scott College; M.A. (1979), Ph.D. (1987) University of North Carolina. Research specialties: Contemporary portraiture; Theory and practice of American and British portraiture, 1750-1820; American portraitists 1880-1900; American women artists 1880-1900; Portraiture and science. Contact: FortuneB@si.edu
Carr, Carolyn K., Deputy Director and Chief Curator Emerita. B.A. Smith College; M.A. Oberlin College; Ph.D. (1978) Case Western Reserve University. Research specialties: Late nineteenth and late twentieth century American art and photography, Latin American art. Contact: CarrC@si.edu
Miles, Ellen G., Curator Emerita, Department of Painting and Sculpture. B.A. (1964) Bryn Mawr College; M. Phil. (1970), Ph.D. (1976) Yale University. Research specialties: American portraiture to 1865; portraits of George Washington; profile portraits and silhouettes; artists’ techniques; theory and practice of portraiture. Contact: MilesE@si.edu
Reaves, Wendy Wick, Curator Emerita, Department of Prints and Drawings. B.A. (1972) University of Pennsylvania; M.A. (1977) University of Delaware. Research specialties: American graphic art, particularly portrait prints and drawings; self-portraiture; caricature, cartoon, and humor in art; posters, illustration and printed ephemera; American popular culture; the history of fame. ReavesW@si.edu