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.
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 >>
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.