National Portrait Gallery

Coordinates: 38°53′52″N 77°01′22″W / 38.897824°N 77.022649°W / 38.897824; -77.022649

The National Portrait Gallery is an art gallery in Washington, D.C., administered by the Smithsonian Institution. Its collections focus on images of famous individual Americans.


It resides in the National Historic Landmarked Old Patent Office Building (now renamed the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture), located just south of Chinatown in the Penn Quarter district of downtown Washington. The third oldest federal building in the city, constructed between 1836 and 1867, the marble and granite museum has porticoes modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

The building was used as a hospital during the American Civil War. Walt Whitman worked there and used his experiences as a basis for The Wound Dresser. The Bureau of Indian Affairs moved into the building after the war ended. Whitman worked as a clerk for the bureau until 1867, when he was fired after a manuscript of Leaves of Grass was found in his desk.

It was spared from demolition by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958, and given to the Smithsonian, which renovated the structure and opened the National Museum of American Art (later renamed the Smithsonian American Art Museum) and National Portrait Gallery there in 1968.

It is the namesake for the Gallery Place Washington Metro station, located across the intersection of F and 8th Streets, Northwest.


Hallmarks of the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection include the famous "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington; the Hall of Presidents; and its extensive selection of portraits of remarkable Americans from all walks of life. Since its reopening on July 1, 2006, the Portrait Gallery has also focused on contemporary portraiture in its "Portraiture Now" series, and in its triennial contemporary portrait competition, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.


The National Portrait Gallery was closed for extensive renovations and expansion in January 2000; it reopened on July 1, 2006. The renovated museum includes a new, glass-enclosed courtyard designed by Foster + Partners, the architecture firm of renowned architect Norman Foster.

Hide/Seek controversy

After complaints, and consultation with Gallery director Martin Sullivan and co-curator David C. Ward but not with co-curator Jonathan David Katz, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough pulled down a video artwork "A Fire in My Belly", by artist David Wojnarowicz, part of an exhibit "Hide/Seek". The video contains a scene with a crucifix covered in ants.William Donohue of the Catholic League claimed the work was "hate speech", against Catholics. The curator David C. Ward said: "It is not anti-religion or sacrilegious. It is a powerful use of imagery". Gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz wrote:

On December 2, 2010, protesters against the censorship marched from the Transformer Gallery, to the National Portrait Gallery. The art work was projected on the building. On December 5, Michael Blasenstein and Michael Dax Iacovone were detained and barred from the gallery for holding leaflets. On December 9, National Portrait Gallery Commissioner James T. Bartlett resigned in protest. The Andy Warhol Foundation, who supported the exhibit, plans to cease funding future Smithsonian exhibits. The artist A. A. Bronson sought to withdraw his art from the exhibit, with support from the lending institution, the National Gallery of Canada, unsuccessfully as of December 20. The curators appeared at a forum at the New York Public Library. A protest was held from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. On December 15, a panel discussion was held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. On December 20, a panel discussion was held at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center. On January 20, 2011, the Center of Study of Political Graphics held a protest at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Secretary Clough issued a statement standing by the decision, spoke at a Town Hall Los Angeles meeting, and appeared at a public forum in April 26-27 2011. Several curators within the Smithsonian criticized the decision, as did critics, with Newsweek arts critic Blake Gopnik going so far as to call the complaints "gay bashing" and not a legitimate public controversy.

  • Martin E. Sullivan
  • Marc Prachter
  • Alan M. Fern

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  • Peter Mertz
    Peter Mertz commented
    Great place, the art isn't that good but the courtyard is fantastc.
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