In Memoriam: Alan Fern, 1930–2021

September 13, 2021

Dr. Alan Fern, Director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, 1982–2000

A native of Detroit, Alan attained both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago, before studying at the Courtauld Institute in London, and then returning to Chicago to complete his doctorate. A scholar of American prints and photographs, he worked at the Library of Congress for twenty years before joining the Smithsonian; leading the National Portrait Gallery for 18 years from 1982 until his retirement in 2000. Alan made many important decisions that shaped the museum's mission, including doubling the permanent collection to over 18,000 works before he left.   A consummate director deeply knowledgeable about art and history and a long-time member of the Association of Art Museum Directors, Alan was also a decorated Chevalier Ordre de la Couronne (Belgium), Ordre des Arts et Lettres (France), Commander Royal Order of Polar Star (Sweden) and Fulbright Scholar.  

bust length painting of a gray-haired man with glasses holding a pipe
Alan M. Fern / Everett Raymond Kinstler / 2004, Oil on canvas / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Everett Raymond Kinstler