Generations of remarkable Americans are kept in the company of their fellow citizens at the National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery presents the wonderful diversity of individuals who have left-and are leaving- their mark on our country and culture. Through the visual and performing arts, they celebrate leaders such as George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., artists such as Mary Cassatt and George Gershwin, activists such as Sequoyah and Rosa Parks, and icons of pop culture such as Babe Ruth and Marilyn Monroe. They all link us to our past, our present, and our future. For anyone fascinated by famous Americans and their stories, the National Portrait Gallery is a must-visit destination.
The National Portrait Gallery shares with the Smithsonian American Art Museum one of Washington’s oldest public buildings, a National Historic Landmark that was begun in 1836 to house the U.S. Patent office. One of the nation’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, the building has undergone an extensive renovation that showcases its most dramatic architectural features, including skylights, a curving double staircase, porticos, and vaulted galleries illuminated by natural lights. The Lunder Conservation Center, the only fine-art facility of its kind, is an innovative new space that allows visitors to look through floor-to-ceiling windows as conservators care for the national treasures entrusted to both museums.
At the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, the “America’s Presidents” exhibition lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the country’s history through the individuals who have shaped it. Gilbert Stuart’s “Lansdowne” painting of George Washington is the grand introductory image to this exhibition. In 2000, the Gallery was in danger of losing this painting – which had been on loan since the museum’s opening in 1968 – when its owner decided to sell it. A generous gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation allowed the “Lansdowne” painting to be purchased as a gift to the nation. “America’s President” continues with portraits-including paintings, sculpture, photographs, and caricatures – of each succeeding president.