The Portraits

Curator working in research stacks


The Catalog of American Portraits (CAP), part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Office of Collections Information and Research, is a national portrait archive maintaining information and images for more than 200,000 portraits of prominent American subjects or by prominent American artists.

Results will Include National Portrait Gallery collection

What We Collect

Established in 1966, the CAP continues to acquire new material regularly and includes an ongoing survey of portraits held in collections across the country and abroad. Only one-of-a-kind likenesses are recorded, such as paintings, sculpture, drawings, miniatures, silhouettes, and daguerreotypes. Photographs, engravings, etchings, lithographs, and other graphic arts are not included, except those in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection or exhibitions.

The CAP manual files contain a photograph of the portrait, standard catalog data, current ownership, provenance, and biographical sketches of subjects and artists. Often, archival correspondence and primary research material is included as well. A costume study of dated American portraits, from the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, is also available for examination and comparison.

Staff working in the CAP collections

Our Services

Researchers may search the CAP online, or may request assistance with searches by phone or e-mail. Researchers may visit by appointment to examine manual files from Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (closed on federal holidays).

View our Guide to Research Resources for Portraiture, Biography, and History >>

Images are for study purposes only, and any requests for reproductions must be directed to the owners. The CAP reserves the right to protect information provided by the cooperating owners, and information concerning private collections is restricted or kept confidential when requested. CAP personnel cannot undertake extensive research for either individuals or institutions. The staff is not permitted to provide certification of authenticity or to give appraisals. A nominal fee is charged for printing large reports and photocopying archival material.

How you can help

The CAP depends on the assistance of portrait owners, interns, and volunteers.

Include your collection in our national portrait survey by downloading our  Portrait Survey Form (PDF)

Apply for a Smithsonian internship with the CAP >>

Contact Us

Phone: (202) 633-8260
For portrait inquiries, please tell us everything you know about the portrait in question, and include an image if at all possible. Please understand that our small staff makes it impossible to help with all requests. Our strength is in one-of-a-kind likenesses such as paintings, drawings, sculptures and daguerreotypes, preferably of identified sitters. If we are able to help, we will do our best to answer your inquiry within two weeks.

PORTAL= Portraiture + Analysis

PORTAL Mission

As the National Portrait Gallery’s scholarly center, PORTAL = Portraiture + Analysis facilitates interdisciplinary programs to examine the production and uses of portraiture within its global contexts.

Portraiture encompasses more than a reflection of the self. By fostering new research and scholarly publications, PORTAL places portraiture within wider social and cultural contexts to develop the field of portraiture studies. Through symposia, fellowships, study days, research and a web presence, PORTAL endeavors to situate American portraiture within a global framework.

Edgar P. Richardson Symposium

A biennial symposium cultivating scholarly dialogue about the field of portraiture through the collection and scholarship of the National Portrait Gallery. The symposium happens biennially and is free and open to the public.

The next symposium, “New Perspectives on Portraiture" will be held on September 20 and 21, 2018 in the Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium at the National Portrait Gallery. Visit the page for a full description and schedule of speakers

See videos from our 2016 Edgar P. Richardson Symposium Racial Masquerade in American Art and Culture below:

Introductions by Kim Sajet Director, National Portrait Gallery and Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw Associate Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, Senior Fellow, National Portrait Gallery

“Racial Hauntology in the Age of Obama” Eric Lott, Professor of English and American Studies, CUNY Graduate Center


Introductions by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw Associate Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, Senior Fellow, National Portrait Gallery and Jillian B. Vaum PhD Candidate, University of Pennsylvania Artistic Practice Discussion

Cherise Smith Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, University of Texas at Austin Michael Ray Charles Professor of Art, University of Houston


Introduction and end-of-panel question moderation by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, Senior Fellow, National Portrait Gallery

"Painting the Queen Black: Exploring Portraiture, Performance, and the Materiality of Blackface through Inigo Jones’s Designs for Queen Anne’s Masque of Blackness" - Mia L. Bagneris, Jesse Poesch Junior Professor of Art History, Newcomb Art Department, Tulane University

"Reginald and Gladys Laubin as Cultural Transvestites, 1930 to 1960" - Janet Catherine Berlo, Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester

"Racial Masquerade: The Case of F. Holland Day" - Anthony W. Lee Idella Plimpton Kendall Professor of Art History, Mount Holyoke College

"Dance Revolutions: Bodies, Space, and Sound in American Popular Culture" - Christopher J. Smith, Professor & Chair of Musicology and Director of the Vernacular Music Center, Texas Tech University

The Library's collection consists of more than 180,000 books, exhibition catalogues, catalogues raisonné, periodicals, and dissertations that concentrate on American art, history, and biography, with supporting materials on European art. Our holdings also include original artists' books, auction catalogues, ephemera, scrapbooks, and microforms. The National Portrait Gallery shares the library with the Smithsonian American Art Museum (abbreviated as AA/PG). It is a branch of the Smithsonian Libraries system; read more about the AA/PG Library on the Smithsonian Libraries website.

View of library reading room, showing tables and chairs, and bookshelves

Our Services

The AA/PG Library is open to public researchers, Smithsonian staff, fellows, and students. The library is a research facility and, with the exception of interlibrary loan items, materials must be used on site. The library participates in interlibrary loan with libraries throughout the world. Contact your neighborhood library for details on how to borrow materials that are unavailable locally. Please note that rare books and special collection items, folios, periodicals, microform, reference, and nonprint materials do not circulate through interlibrary loan.

Librarian and researcher doing research

Online Access

The AA/PG Library catalog is available through the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) and the Smithsonian Collections Search Center. The holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries are also included in OCLC (WorldCat), an international database of library and research collections.

Periodicals on library bookshelf

Victor Building
750 Ninth Street NW
Suite 2100
Washington DC 20001-4505

Phone: (202) 633-8240
Fax: (202) 633-8232

The American Art Collaborative Linked Open Data Consortium

The American Art Collaborative (AAC) is a consortium of fourteen U.S. institutions—thirteen museums and one archive--working together to create a critical mass of Linked Open Data (LOD) around the subject of the visual arts in America.

The National Portrait Gallery has been a member of the AAC since the consortium’s formal establishment in 2014. For a full list of participating institutions, educational briefings, presentations, and general project background, visit

Thanks to generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a leadership grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the AAC has converted over 230,000 museum object records to LOD.

New to linked data? Please visit

View the Browse Application Prototype

To design and develop a usable application for exploring the collected data, the project established a Browse Working Group, involving six of the 14 institutions and led by Design for Context, who developed a demonstration application, available at

The site allows objects and artists from across the 14 partner institutions to be explored through one interface. This application is a prototype, and is not meant to represent all the things that can be done with museum data in the future. Rather, it provides easy access to the available partner information and focuses on a few straightforward ways that data from the different institutions can be connected and explored.

Using the AAC Data

The URI construction for SPARQL queries is We invite developers to make use of this data in their applications and share their results with us. 

Connect to the Portrait Gallery’s artwork data using this URI schema:[object_number] Example 

Metadata and LOD from the AAC partners is freely available on GitHub:


Licensing and Usage Guidelines for NPG Data

The National Portrait Gallery has licensed the use of our collections metadata under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). This license allows for re-use of the metadata without legal restriction. Please be aware that the content to which the metadata links is not covered by the CC0 license.

If you wish to use the underlying content for anything other than personal or non-commercial usage, please contact Rights and Reproductions staff.

The availability of a link to a digital resource does not imply or convey permission to download, distribute, or use that file in any way that would be incompatible with the Terms of Use of the Smithsonian Institution.

Additional guidelines:

  • Give proper attribution by including the statement “Data Source: National Portrait Gallery” and by providing the URI for the object being referenced.
  • Do not mislead others, or misrepresent the metadata or its sources.
  • Understand that data is used at your own risk.

AAC Next Steps

As a next step, the AAC is seeking additional funding to expand the application of LOD within the museum and archival communities. As more museums produce LOD, we hope they will contact us, dialogue will ensue, and opportunities will increase to link or interconnect data and further demonstrate the value of LOD.

Contact Us

For questions or feedback on the National Portrait Gallery’s data, please contact Data Administrator Sue Garton at

For more information about AAC’s next steps, please contact AAC founder and manager Eleanor Fink at