PORTAL= Portraiture + Analysis

Mission

PORTAL = Portraiture + Analysis, the National Portrait Gallery’s Scholarly Center, promotes the study of American portraiture and visual biography. Increasingly interdisciplinary, the field of American portraiture nevertheless remains underdeveloped in the United States. We especially seek to support analyses of its production, uses, and cultural meanings within global contexts.

PORTAL fosters engagement with portraiture through the coordination of discussions, new research, and scholarly publications on portraiture in all mediums and within various social and cultural contexts. Its symposia, fellowships, meetings, and research situate American portraiture and visual biography within larger social, historical, economic, and political frameworks.

Management

Kate Clarke Lemay, historian at the National Portrait Gallery, directs PORTAL. An advisory board of seven individuals—artists and scholars with expertise in American history, art history, and biography—provides guidance for PORTAL’s programming:

Yunte Huang, Professor of English, University of California, Santa Barbara
Jane Kamensky, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University, and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
David Lubin, Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art, Wake Forest University
Lauren Redniss, Associate Professor of Illustration, Parsons School of Design
Martha A. Sandweiss, Professor of History, Princeton University
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, Associate Professor of History of Art,University of Pennsylvania
Sean Wilentz, Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor of the American Revolutionary Era, Princeton University; Professor of History, Princeton University

Programs

Edgar P. Richardson Symposium

The Edgar P. Richardson Symposium is a day-long biennial conference that provides an opportunity for both scholars and the public to study and discuss American portraiture. In addition to considering the genre in broad terms, the symposium encourages critical thinking on specific topics. Depending on the biennial theme, participants may be prompted to focus on methodological approaches, ideological frameworks, or on such issues as race, ethnicity, class, or gender. The subject of the symposium is determined by a committee of National Portrait Gallery scholars, who are also responsible for conducting an open call for papers and selecting the panelists. The Edgar P. Richardson Symposium alternates yearly with the biennial Director’s Essay Prize. 

The Director’s Essay Prize

The Director’s Essay Prize seeks to develop research and scholarship related to the intersections of history, biography, and American portraiture in a global context. It is awarded to a scholar biennially, in tandem with Scholar Day. An outside jury of three scholars selects the winning essay, which must have appeared in a peer-reviewed publication within the previous two years. The award is announced in the early spring. Prize winners are expected to deliver a public lecture at the National Portrait Gallery in the late fall.

The next call for papers will be issued in December 2020.

Learn about this year’s winners

Scholar Day

Scholar Day provides two scholars with the opportunity to receive critical feedback on manuscripts in progress that address history, biography, and/or American portraiture. Members of the National Portrait Gallery’s curatorial team, the winner of the Director’s Essay Prize, and a group of local academics read the drafts prior to meeting together in person with the author to conduct a positive, constructive workshop. Scholar Day concludes with a public keynote lecture by the Director’s Essay Prize winner.

Greenberg Steinhauser Forum in American Portraiture

This one-day, conversation-oriented forum is dedicated to the study of works of art in an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It provides specialists with the opportunity to investigate original objects in person and to engage in scholarly dialogue in a small group setting. Scholars with expertise in the subject at hand are invited to explore questions related to the exhibition’s premise and themes with Portrait Gallery scholars.