National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution)

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The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is dedicated to the exhibition and study of the portraits of individuals who have made significant contributions to American history and culture. The Gallery sponsors a variety of scholarly and public activities for audiences interested in American art and history. NPG holds recordings, videotapes and thousands of films pertaining to objects, people and events.

In 1919, interested citizens began actively lobbying for a national portrait gallery. That year the Smithsonian Institution, through its National Gallery of Art (renamed the National Collection of Fine Arts in 1937), the American Federation of Arts, and the American Mission to Negotiate Peace endorsed the National Arts Commission. Its purpose was to commission American artists to create a pictorial record of World War I through portraits of American and the Allied Nations leaders. The result was twenty portraits which went on exhibit in the Natural History Building in May 1921 and again in 1923 after traveling in exhibitions throughout the United States. These portraits formed an early nucleus for what became the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection. While the Gallery was not officially established at the time, donations of portraits received since 1921 were accepted in preparation for its future opening.

Congress officially established the National Portrait Gallery in 1962 as a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, "a free and public museum for the exhibition and study of portraiture and statuary depicting men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States, and of the artists who created such portraiture and statuary."

The Smithsonian Board of Regents appointed the first NPG Commission in 1963, which elected John Nicholas Brown as its head. The first NPG Commission defined two main objectives for the Gallery based on its congressional mandate: acquisition and exhibition of portrait and statuary of those who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the United States; and establishment of the Gallery as a research center for American biography, iconography, and history.

In the 1960s and 1970s, NPG initiated several programs to carry out its second objective, providing a research center for American biography, iconography, and history, by establishing the Catalog of American Portraits and the Charles Willson Peale Papers.

Between 1964 and 1969, NPG began adding to the small collections of portraits acquired on its behalf by the National Collections of Fine Arts (NCFA). The National Gallery of Art (the name given the gift to the nation of the Andrew Mellon collection in 1937) transferred thirty-four portraits which Mellon had designated for a future national portrait gallery in his 1937 bequest. NCFA and the National Museum of History and Technology (currently National Museum of American History) also transferred portraits from their collections, including works from the original Smithsonian collection.

Congress increased the Museum's ability to add to its collections when it passed an act in 1976 allowing it to collect portraits in all media, most notable photography. In 1981, 5,419 glass negatives from the Matthew Brady Studio were acquired as a group from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection.

Directors of NPG since the Museum became a separate Smithsonian bureau have been Charles Nagel, 1964-1969; Marvin S. Sadik, 1969-1981; Alan Maxwell Fern, 1982-2000; and Marc Pachter, 2000- .

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Agency History. Record 218079

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn American Philosophical Society Archives. Record Group IIj, 1898-1988 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Boyd, Julian P. (Julian Parks), 1903-1980. Julian P. Boyd papers, 1935-1980. Princeton University Library
creatorOf National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution). Art index of University of Virginia artworks in the Catalogue of American Portraits [manuscript], ca. 1980. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Burrus, Harry. Correspondence with Eugene Ormandy, 1981. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Armond Fields American Theatre collection, Bulk, 1895-1925, 1856-2000 USC Libraries Special Collections
referencedIn Kaplan, Sidney, 1913-. Sidney Kaplan collection, 1971. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Parmenia Migel papers, 1945-1990. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Theater, entertainment, sports, and popular culture realia, 1772-2008 and undated. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn David E. Finley papers, 1921-1977 Library of Congress
referencedIn Proetz, Victor, 1897-1966. Victor Hugo Proetz papers, [ca. 1930]-1965. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Nagel, Charles, 1899-1992. Charles Nagel papers, ca. 1927-1992. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Sidney Kaplan collection, 1971 The New York Public Library. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division.
referencedIn Mary Hyde Eccles papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Collection of newspaper clippings relating to gift of the Maxham daguerreotype of Thoreau to National Gallery, 1973 Feb. Concord Free Public Library, Special Collection
referencedIn Ira and William Glackens papers, circa 1900-1990 Archives of American Art
referencedIn Brooklyn Museum. Office of the Director. Charles Nagel records, 1946-1955. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
creatorOf Richardson, Edgar Preston, 1902-. E.P. (Edgar Preston) Richardson papers, 1893-1994. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Frain, J. George, 1910-1998. J. George Frain papers, 1922-1998. Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
creatorOf Krasnow, Peter, 1886-1979. Peter and Rose Krasnow papers, 1914-1983. Archives of American Art
creatorOf Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Curatorial Office Records of the American Paintings Catalogue, 1985-1999 (bulk 1985-1990) Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, The Clark
creatorOf Pinsky, Robert. A collection of Robert Pinsky's poems and translations, announcements of his poetry readings, lectures and awards and photographic portraits : as well as poems by Stanley Kunitz and Heather McHugh. Boston University, Mugar Memorial Library
creatorOf National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution). Institutional file. Brooklyn Museum Libraries & Archives
creatorOf National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution). Correspondence with Marian Anderson, 1971. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Richardson, Edgar Preston, 1902-. E.P. (Edgar Preston) Richardson papers, 1893-1994. Archives of American Art
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Philosophical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith Boyd, Julian P. (Julian Parks), 1903-1980. person
associatedWith Brooklyn Museum. Office of the Director. corporateBody
associatedWith Brown, John Nicholas, 1900- person
associatedWith Burrus, Harry. person
associatedWith Eccles, Mary Hyde. person
associatedWith Fern, Alan Maxwell, 1930- person
associatedWith Fields, Armond, 1930- person
associatedWith Finley, David E. (David Edward) person
associatedWith Frain, J. George, 1910-1998. person
associatedWith Glackens, Ira person
associatedWith Johnson, James Weldon, 1871-1938. person
associatedWith Kaplan, Sidney, 1913- person
associatedWith Krasnow, Peter, 1886-1979. person
correspondedWith Migel, Parmenia. person
associatedWith Nagel, Charles, 1899-1992. person
associatedWith National Museum of American History (U.S.). Office of the Director. corporateBody
associatedWith Pachter, Marc person
associatedWith Pinsky, Robert. person
associatedWith Proetz, Victor, 1897-1966. person
associatedWith Richardson, Edgar Preston, 1902- person
associatedWith Sadik, Marvin S. person
associatedWith Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Virginia corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Art museums
Occupation
Activity

Corporate Body

Active 1893

Active 1994

Britons

English

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