About Us

Skylights in the museum's great hall

Press Room

Portrait Gallery Opens Visual Exploration of the Life of Sylvia Plath

“One Life: Sylvia Plath” Opens June 30

May 15, 2017

“One Life: Sylvia Plath” is the first exploration of the poet and writer’s visual imagination in an art and history museum. The exhibition reveals how Plath shaped her identity as she came of age as a writer in the 1950s and early 1960s. The exhibition opens in the museum’s “One Life” space June 30 through May 20, 2018. The press preview will be held June 29 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.

“Sylvia Plath’s fascination with images and imaging was a strong part of her identity,” said Dorothy moss, curator of painting and sculpture at the Portrait Gallery. “The exhibition allows us to see what she described as her ‘visual imagination’ in all its complexity.”

Through personal letters, self-portraits, family photographs and relevant objects, the exhibition highlights Plath’s struggle to understand the traumas in her life—the early death of her father, psychiatric breakdown in college and collapse of her marriage—and to navigate the societal pressures placed on women as she made her way in the professional world. Visitors will get a look into Plath’s personal life and her savvy understanding of visual media.

The exhibition features a carefully selected array of images and objects from the Mortimer Rare Book Collection and the Smith College Historic Clothing Collection at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington and private collections. Karen Kukil, associate curator of rare books and manuscripts at Smith College, co-curated the exhibition.

This exhibition has been funded by the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment Fund and Mr. and Mrs. John Daniel Reaves.

The National Portrait Gallery’s “One Life” exhibition series dedicates one full gallery to the biography of a single individual, offering deep scholarship and a chance to showcase different aspects of the person’s life. The museum’s “One Life” room has focused on the lives and influence of Katharine Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Sandra Day O’Connor, Thomas Paine, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, Dolores Huerta and Babe Ruth.

National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at Facebook; Instagram; blog; Twitter and YouTube.

 # # #