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 our culture. Through the visual and performing arts, we 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 Noblest of Washington Buildings
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 light. 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.
The museums are collectively known as the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, in honor of the museums' largest donor, the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
As 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 Presidents" continues with portraits—including paintings, sculpture, photographs, and caricatures—of each succeeding president.
"American Origins, 1600–1900" Permanent exhibition opened July 1, 2006
A "conversation about America" is on view in a series of 17 galleries and alcoves chronologically
arranged to take the visitor from the days of contact between Native Americans and European
explorers through the struggles of independence to the Gilded Age. Major figures from Pocahontas to
Chief Joseph, Alexander Hamilton to Henry Clay, and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Harriet Beecher Stowe
are be among those included.
Three of the galleries are devoted exclusively to the Civil War, examining this conflict in depth. A
group of modern photographic prints produced from Mathew Brady's original negatives
complement the exhibition. Highlights from the Gallery's remarkable collection of daguerreotypes, the
earliest practical form of photography, are on view in "American Origins," making the National
Portrait Gallery the first major museum to create a permanent exhibition space for daguerreotype
portraits of historically significant Americans.
The Education Department uses history and the arts as a vehicle to introduce visitors to significant Americans in the Portrait Gallery's collection. Object–based learning programs for school, teacher, youth, and family audiences will guide discoveries into the cultural, social, political, and personal context of their subjects and time periods. Cultures in Motion brings the museum's collection to life through dramatic performances, recitals, concerts, storytelling, and other performance media. Reel Portraits presents archival, documentary, and feature films in consideration of significant American lives. To learn about more education programs or to schedule a tour, call:  633–8300
Open 11:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.; closed December 25
Eighth and F Streets, NW, Washington, DC