Fact Sheet: America's Presidents

Media only:  Concetta Duncan  (202) 633-9989, duncanc@si.edu 
                      Gabrielle Obusek (202) 633-8299, obusekge@si.edu

“America’s Presidents” Exhibition Highlights

Since its creation by an Act of Congress in 1962, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has collected portraits of American presidents. The Portrait Gallery has the only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House and now holds 1,671 likenesses of U.S. presidents in its collection. The museum has been open to the public since 1968.

“America’s Presidents” lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the lives of those who have shaped its history and culture, and is dedicated to presenting the portraits of past U.S. presidents. The renovated exhibition reopened to the public in September 2017 with a new configuration, bilingual content, new navigational elements and innovative technology. The museum’s 50-year legacy was also commemorated with the return of Gilbert Stuart’s acclaimed “Lansdowne” portrait of President George Washington following an eighteen-month restoration. In 2017, the enhanced exhibition space was further complemented by the launch of a new website, a publication on “America’s Presidents” and the SmARTify app.

Since the transformation of “America’s Presidents,” the exhibition has also featured new acquisitions, including an 1843 daguerreotype of President John Quincy Adams by Philip Haas (the earliest known photographic likeness of a U.S. president) and the museum’s official commissioned portrait of former President Barack Obama by contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley. From June 2021 to Oct. 2022 the Portrait Gallery traveled “The Obama Portraits Tour” to seven cities across the country, touring President Barack Obama’s portrait by Wiley and First Lady Michelle Obama’s commissioned portrait by Amy Sherald.

Highlights of “America’s Presidents” also include the 1917 casts of Lincoln’s “life masks” (1860 and 1865) that were originally created by Leonard Volk and Clark Mills, respectively. In Feb. 2023, the Portrait Gallery added a 3-D tactile display of the Lincoln hand and face masks, designed with audio components and verbal descriptions to provide an enhanced sensory experience of the casts for all visitors including those who are blind or experience low vision. The Portrait Gallery also installed a large-scale painting of President Abraham Lincoln painted from life by W.F.K. Travers in 1865, on long-term loan from the Hartley Dodge Foundation.

Portraits of the Presidents

Near the end of a president’s term, curators at the National Portrait Gallery work with the White House to determine which artists to consider for the museum’s official portraits of the president and first lady. Once a final decision is made by the president and first lady, the Portrait Gallery commissions the portraits, and they are added to the museum’s permanent collection upon their completion. Following the conclusion of their time in office, the president’s portrait is put on display in the “America’s Presidents” exhibition. The first lady’s portrait is displayed elsewhere in the museum.

The National Portrait Gallery began commissioning portraits of the president in 1994, with the portrait of George H. W. Bush. In 2006, the museum began commissioning portraits of first ladies. Past commissions are:


  • George H. W. Bush by Ronald N. Sherr (1994–95)
  • Bill Clinton by Nelson Shanks (2005)
  • George W. Bush by Robert A. Anderson (2008)
  • Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley (2018)

The Portrait Gallery has 232 portraits in its collection associated with the First Ladies.

First Ladies:


National Portrait Gallery

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning 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 nation’s story.                    

The National Portrait Gallery is located at Eighth and G streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu and on Facebook, Instagram, X and YouTube.  

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