The Director's Essay Prize at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Call for Nominations Open Through February 15, 2019

We are extending the deadline of the Director’s Essay Prize to February 15, 2019. Please note that there have been changes to the eligibility criteria as well:

1.          Scholars from any stage of their career may apply. They must have a PhD.
2.         Essays focusing on American portraiture in ethnic American studies fields will be considered.
3.         Essays of all lengths will be considered.

In honor of the National Portrait Gallery’s 50th anniversary, the museum has announced the newly founded Director’s Essay Prize. The biennial award will foster leading research and will support scholars whose expertise includes the field of visual biography and American portraiture. The award includes a cash prize of $3,000 for the author of a published essay that explores and enriches the interdisciplinary nature of American art, biography, history and cultural identity. The recipient will be asked to present a paper on their essay topic at the National Portrait Gallery during an award ceremony in fall 2019.

To qualify, scholarly essays must have been published in print or online within the past two years (details below). The award is by nomination only, and authors and publishers may not self-nominate. The deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. EST Feb. 15.

The Director’s Essay Prize complements the Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a triennial juried exhibition established in 2006, and is specifically dedicated to supporting the next wave of written scholarship on portraiture.

To Nominate an Essay
Please send a one-page letter that explains the work’s significance to the field of portraiture and a copy of the nominated essay. More than one person may nominate the same essay.  Send letters of nomination and a copy of the essay to:

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Attn: History Department, PORTAL
PO Box 37012
Victor Building Suite 410, MRC 973
Washington, DC 20013-7012


If sending your nomination by email, please send it as a PDF.
Please call Jacqueline Petito, program assistant, at 202-633-8505 with any questions.

• Jurors will consider single-author scholarly essays that have either appeared in an academic journal or in a university press and/or museum publication between January 2016 and January 2019.
• Author must have a PhD at the time of submission.
• Essay must explore American portraiture through an interdisciplinary lens.
• Author must be available to present a 45-minute lecture on their essay topic at the National Portrait Gallery’s award ceremony, which will take place in the fall of 2019.
• Essay must be in written in English or translated to English before submission for review.
• Nomination must be received by 5 p.m. EST on February 15, 2019.

Please note that no work written by an employee of the Smithsonian or produced by a Smithsonian publications office is eligible.

Contact Info: 
Jacqueline Petito, Program Assistant

Contact Email: