DC -- Donald W. Reynolds Center (NPG) -- Exhibit: America's Presidents:
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Description of Pictures: The presidential galleries reopened after an overhaul in September 2017. Some portraits were swapped in or out, presidents were numbered (with Grover Cleveland requiring two numbers because of his non-consecutive terms), and signs describing eras of presidents were added.
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SIPGPR_170928_018.JPG: America's Presidents
Throughout the history of the American presidency, from George Washington's inauguration to the present day, the chief executive's duties have encompassed more than politics. Our presidents are charged with responding to the hopes and aspirations of the American people, and this is a tremendous burden -- one that has crushed some and elevated others.
The Constitution only minimally defines the powers of the president because the Founders sought to create an office that could change and develop as the course of American history unfolded. They trusted in posterity and relied upon the character and wisdom of American citizenry. in our democracy, the power of the office is subject to the leader's relationship with the electorate, and the most influential American presidents have transcended their own eras to shape the country's present as well as its future.
When these individuals took the oath of office, they all accepted an enormous responsibility. But their specific circumstances and their distinct personalities leave us with unique stories of both triumph and failure. On their own, each of the portraits in America's Presidents depicts a leader whose life offers lessons in governance, endurance, and character. Collectively, they reveal the contours of the history of the United States.
SIPGPR_170928_039.JPG: George Washington, 1732-1799
Born Westmoreland County, Virginia
In 1784, the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon agreed to execute a full-length marble statue of George Washington for the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. The following year, he raveled across the Atlantic and spent two weeks at Mount Vernon. While there, he made a life mask of Washington. That mask became the basis for several plaster and terra-cotta busts, including this one.
Jean-Antoine Houdon, c. 1786
SIPGPR_170928_048.JPG: Washington to J.Q. Adams
SIPGPR_170928_053.JPG: Building the Presidency
SIPGPR_170928_055.JPG: Washington in His Last Illness
American engravers enjoyed a steady market in the late eighteenth century with the booming demand for illustrations and popular prints. Following the Revolutionary War, George Washington's status as a national icon spurred the fledgling industry into supplying inexpensive portraits to meet public demand. Washington's death on December 14, 1799, would prompt an outpouring of oratorical and pictorial tributes. This deathbed scene, which alludes to published accounts of the president's final moments, shows a physician taking Washington's pulse with the aid of a stopwatch. Americans purchased souvenir handkerchiefs that featured this image on one side and a complementary mourning picture on the other.
Unidentified artist, 1800
SIPGPR_170928_064.JPG: George Washington, 1732-1799
Born Westmoreland County, Virginia
In October or early November of 1795, President George Washington granted Charles Willson Peale a seventh -- and last -- portrait sitting. Peale, who had been commissioned by Henry William De Saussure to paint the president's likeness, decided to offer the opportunity to his extremely talented but inexperienced son, Rembrandt. In order to make the atmosphere of the sitting less formal, Peale invited his brother James and his oldest son, Raphaelle, to participate in the session. The older men engaged Washington in conversation and painted their own portraits of him so that Rembrandt could feel more at ease.
This is one of several "cabinet-size" replicas of Charles Willson Peale's image from his famous group sitting.
Charles Willson Peale, 1795
SIPGPR_170928_071.JPG: George Washington, 1732-1799
Gilbert Stuart first painted George Washington in 1795 (in a work now known only from copies). That painting was so successful that, according to artist Rembrandt Peale, Martha Washington "wished a Portrait for herself." She persuaded her husband to sit again for Stuart "on the express condition that when finished it should be hers." Stuart, however, did not want to part with the picture and left it unfinished so that he could refer to it when producing future commissions. Known as the "Athenaeum" portrait because it went to the Boston Athenaeum after Stuart's death, this painting served as the basis for the engraving of Washington that appears on the one-dollar bill. John Neal, an early-nineteenth-century writer and art critic, wrote, "Though a better likeness of him were shown to us, we should reject it; for, the only idea that we now have of George Washington, is associated with Stuart's Washington."
Gilbert Stuart, 1796
SIPGPR_170928_077.JPG: Martha Washington, 1731-1802
Although Gilbert Stuart made many copies of the president's portrait over the years, this is thought to be his only painting of Martha Washington. Commissioned at the same time as the "Athenaeum" portrait of George Washington, Stuart's portrait of the first lady has a similar history; the artist never finished it, and he kept it until his death. In as early as 1800, when she was grieving the death of her husband, Martha Washington asked her friend Tobias Lear to press Stuart to deliver both portraits. Lear wrote to Stuart, "with all the persuasive language of which I [am] master, [I] prevail upon you to let Mrs. Washington have the Painting of her dear deceased husband, our late illustrious and beloved Chief."
Gilbert Stuart (1755–1828)
Oil on canvas, 1796
Owned jointly with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
SIPGPR_170928_093.JPG: Letter from George Washington to Gilbert Stuart, April 11, 1796
Pennsylvania Senator William Bingham and his wife commissioned Gilbert Stuart to paint a portrait of George Washington in 1796. They presented the likeness to the Marquess of Lansdowne, who as prime minister had negotiated the end of the Revolutionary War. In this original letter, Washington asks where the artist would like to meet him. Stuart annotated the document in 1823, noting that the "Lansdowne" portrait, as it had come to be known, was "the only original painting I ever made of Washington except one I own myself... I painted a third, but rubbed it out."
Long-term loan to the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
SIPGPR_170928_102.JPG: George Washington, 1732-1799
First President, 1789-1797
As a military and political figure, George Washington was a unifying force during the country's formative years. He fought in the French and Indian War and later served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After being unanimously elected as the first president of the United States, in 1789, he installed the Supreme Court and the cabinet, quelled the Whiskey Rebellion, and defeated the Western Lakes Confederacy in the Northwest Indian War (and facilitated the subsequent peace negotiations with the alliance). Washington enjoyed immense popularity at the end of his second term, but he declined to run again, insisting that the United States needed to take proper precautions to avoid hereditary leadership or dictatorship.
While mapping out the composition for this painting, American artist Gilbert Stuart, who had previously worked in England and Ireland, drew from European traditions of state portraiture to evoke Washington's leadership. The artist made a number of direct references to the newly formed United States, and the pose he chose for the president is believed to allude to Washington's annual address in front of Congress in December 1795. Stuart completed several replicas of the image, which spread rapidly through popular engravings.
Gilbert Stuart, 1796
SIPGPR_170928_112.JPG: This is how the new gallery designates the primary portrait for each president. The medallion says "1 -- 1789-1797" which is the term of George Washington.
SIPGPR_170928_141.JPG: John Adams, 1735-1826
Second president, 1797–1801
Of all the Founding Fathers, John Adams was perhaps the most intellectual and accomplished. He helped craft the argument supporting the independence of the Continental Congress and later served on the diplomatic mission that ended the Revolutionary War. When George Washington chose him as his vice president, Adams complained that his lack of official duties meant that he occupied "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived." Nevertheless, he used the position as his ticket to the presidency and was elected in 1796 after a bitter campaign against Thomas Jefferson. During Adams's single term as president, political posturing and bickering inhibited him at home, and France's interference with American commerce created a challenge for him abroad. Adams managed to keep the nation at peace, but he left the White House largely discredited on all sides.When Adams was vice president, he had portraits done by the artist John Trumbull, who based this painting on one of those original portraits. Trumbull incorporated the likeness into his depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence that is on display in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
John Trumbull, 1793
SIPGPR_170928_149.JPG: Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1826
Third president, 1801–1809
A scientist, an Enlightenment philosopher, and one of the most accomplished and complicated personalities in American history, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence and served his country as statesman, diplomat, and president. In 1803, during his first term as president, he orchestrated the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the United States and established the nation as a continental power. This expansion, more than any other, forced politicians to confront the growing slave economy, and Jefferson, who like many of the early American presidents held slaves, wrestled with the rift between his philosophical beliefs and the country's dependence on slavery. John Adams, who served as the American minister to England when Jefferson served as the American minister to France, hosted his friend in the spring of 1786, when both of them were more than a decade away from becoming president. During the visit, Adams suggested that Jefferson pose for the Boston-born artist Mather Brown, who created this portrait -- the earliest known likeness of Jefferson.
Mather Brown, 1786
SIPGPR_170928_160.JPG: Martin Van Buren, 1782-1862
Eighth president, 1837-1841
A consummate politician, Martin Van Buren was clever, strategic, and a master of political patronage. He helped found the Democratic Party, which put Andrew Jackson in the White House, and succeeded Jackson after serving as his vice president. Van Buren, however, had the misfortune of becoming president just a few months before the Panic of 1837 -- an unprecedented financial crisis that brought about an economic depression and earned him the epithet "Martin Van Ruin."
Van Buren also faced the growing problem of slavery in the United States. He attempted to navigate between those who supported the spread of the slave labor system and those who called for its abolition, but this was a challenge. After losing his bid for reelection, Van Buren noted, "the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it."
George Peter Alexander Healy, 1858 (signed 1864)
Lent by the White House, Washington DC
SIPGPR_170928_167.JPG: Andrew Jackson, 1767-1845
Seventh president, 1829-1837
Andrew Jackson's life was colored by struggle, conflict, and aggression. The orphan of impoverished immigrants, he was the only American president to have been a prisoner of war or to have killed a man in a duel. After serving as a general in the U.S. military during the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, he became a national hero.
During Jackson's presidency, he signed the Indian Removal Act into law, defeated the National Bank through the power of the veto, and threatened to use military force to preserve the Union when South Carolina challenged the federal government. Once viewed as a symbol of the country's expansive democracy, Jackson is now a controversial figure for his uncompromising nationalism and punitive Indian policies.
Thomas Sully only painted Jackson from life on two occasions, but he made many portraits of him. This work was a gift from Jackson to his friend Francis Preston Blair.
Thomas Sully, 1824
SIPGPR_170928_181.JPG: Jackson to Buchanan
Democracy and Expansion
SIPGPR_170928_197.JPG: Andrew Jackson, 1767-1845
Born in the Waxhaw Settlement, South Carolina
Ferdinand Pettrich grew up in Dresden and worked as an apprentice for his father, a court sculptor. After studying in Rome with the renowned Dutch artist Bertel Thorvaldsen, Pettrich moved to the United States. The artist reportedly met Jackson in the spring of 1836. That year, he created an original marble portrait of the future president, which served as the model for several replicas. While marble is an intractable medium, Jackson's hair is treated with a great dimensionality that contributes to the drama of this likeness.
Ferdinand Pettrich, marble, after 1836 original
SIPGPR_170928_202.JPG: Lincoln to McKinley
SIPGPR_170928_206.JPG: The Crisis of the Union
SIPGPR_170928_208.JPG: Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Sixteenth president, 1861–1865
Abraham Lincoln, a self-educated frontier lawyer from Illinois, faced one of the greatest challenges as president: preserving the Union. He initially framed the Civil War as a Constitutional crisis over secession, but as fighting intensified, his aims evolved to include reunification based on the abolition of slavery. In 1865, when the war ended, he proposed a program of Southern reconstruction that would require African American civil rights, but before he could implement it, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. George Peter Alexander Healy painted a life portrait of Lincoln in 1860, but he had to rely on other portraits to make this image, one of four he created after Lincoln's death. All are derived from Healy's 1869 group portrait The Peacemakers, which features the president, Generals William T. Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant, and Admiral David D. Porter as they discuss strategy near the end of the Civil War.
George Peter Alexander Healy, 1887
This portrait adopted by
Christie G. Harris
SIPGPR_170928_221.JPG: Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Born Hardin County, Kentucky
Abraham Lincoln was becoming a national celebrity during the summer of 1860, but some worried that his appearance might cost him votes. Philadelphia supporter John M. Read hired John Henry Brown to make a good, small portrait that would serve as the basis for a printed campaign image. Brown had five sittings with the candidate but also based the image on several ambrotypes taken in Illinois. Lincoln's secretary thought the result was "so well executed that when magnified to life size one cannot discover any defects of brush marks on it at all."
John Henry Brown, 1860
SIPGPR_170928_233.JPG: Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Born Hardin County, Kentucky
Mathew Brady's first portrait of Abraham Lincoln played a significant role in shaping Lincoln's public image during the 1860 presidential campaign. Taken on February 27, 1860 -- the day Lincoln delivered his stirring address on slavery at the Cooper Union in New York -- the photograph revealed a candidate whose dignified bearing stood in sharp contrast to the unflattering characterizations spread by his detractors. The portrait circulated in a variety of formats, including this broochlike campaign pin, made by the Boston photographer George Clark, who had copied Brady's original print.
George Clark, after Mathew Brady, 1860
SIPGPR_170928_244.JPG: Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865
Born Hardin County, Kentucky
In February of 1865, just two months before Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Alexander Gardner created this "cracked-plate" portrait, now considered one of the most important and evocative photographs in American history. Aside from the detail in the center of Lincoln's face, much of the picture appears diffused or out of focus. Deep, dark grooves in Lincoln's skin may evoke his weariness at the end of the Civil War, but he also exhibits a slight smile -- perhaps a sign of relief as the restoration of the Union draws near. Lincoln had looked forward to continuing his presidency but was assassinated only weeks after beginning his second term. At some point, possibly when the glass-plate negative was heated to receive a coat of varnish, a crack appeared in the upper half of Gardner's plate. He made a single print and then discarded the damaged plate, so only one such portrait exists.
Alexander Gardner, internal dye-diffusion print copied from the original 1865 albumen silver print, printed 1981
This modern copy is being shown to protect the original from further exposure to light.
SIPGPR_170928_256.JPG: Ulysses S. Grant, 1822-1885
Eighteenth president, 1869–1877
Ulysses S. Grant was a West Point graduate who had no real ambition to be in the military: he wanted to be a teacher. Nonetheless, he served with distinction in the Mexican-American War. After resigning from the army in peacetime, he reenlisted during the Civil War. Following a series of victories, Grant was brought east by Lincoln to command the Union armies. His unrelenting campaign against Robert E. Lee, in 1864–65, finally won the war for the North. Grant was ultimately elected president, but the powers of command he displayed in the army seemed to abandon him when he reached the White House. He was unable to manage the politics of Reconstruction, and his hands-off attitude spawned an outbreak of federal corruption. Shortly after his presidency, Grant posed for the artist Thomas Le Clear. Grant owned this portrait, while a second, larger version entered the White House collection.
Thomas Le Clear, c 1880
SIPGPR_170928_262.JPG: T. Roosevelt to Hoover
SIPGPR_170928_267.JPG: Social Reform
SIPGPR_170928_274.JPG: Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919
Born New York City
Theodore Roosevelt entered the White House in 1901 with a dynamic view of the presidency. He infused vigor into a branch of government that for thirty years had been dominated by Congress. For Roosevelt, whose personal energy mirrored his professional drive, riding and hiking were part of his routine. One senator even quipped that those wishing to have any influence on the president should first buy a horse.
This photograph by Peter A. Juley shows Roosevelt dressed in his riding clothes. The image appeared on the cover of Harper's Weekly on July 2, 1904.
Peter A. Juley, 1903
SIPGPR_170928_280.JPG: Theodore Roosevelt, 1858-1919
Born New York City
This bas-relief of Theodore Roosevelt was commissioned by his friend Jacob Riis, a noted journalist and photographer who, at the turn of the twentieth century, advocated for New York City's disadvantaged tenement population. When Roosevelt served as a city police commissioner between 1895 and 1897, Riis proved to be a valuable source of information because he understood what reforms were needed in the police department. He was also intimately familiar with the harsh realities of the slums.
Sally James Farnham sculpted this bas-relief of President Roosevelt when he was in his second term. Farnham had the chance to sketch the president at an informal cabinet meeting and later made the work for placement in the Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House, which Riis established in the 1890s. The original settlement house was sold in 1952, but the organization continues to operate in Long Island City.
Sally James Farnham, 1906
SIPGPR_170928_294.JPG: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 1884-1980
Born New York City
Nicholas Longworth, 1869-1931
Born Cincinnati, Ohio
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the first child of President Theodore Roosevelt, once noted, "I was the daughter of an enormously popular president, and . . . I looked upon the world as my oyster." This photograph by Edward Curtis was taken in 1906, the year Alice married Congressman Nicholas Longworth, and also the year that Curtis published The North American Indian. The photographer's ambitious publication documents Native American life and provides a photographic record of "more than eighty of North America's native nations."
Edward S. Curtis, 1906
SIPGPR_170928_308.JPG: Grover Cleveland, 1837-1908
Twenty-second and twenty-fourth president, 1885–1889 and 1893–1897
Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms, vetoed more legislation than any prior president, earning the nickname "Old Veto." He believed in a "hands-off" government and often rejected bills that favored individual groups. For instance, he vetoed what he thought were unnecessary pension bills for Civil War veterans. After being ousted from office in 1889 by Benjamin Harrison, Cleveland returned to the presidency four years later, but the Panic of 1893 plagued his second term. He had to call on federal troops to suppress labor unrest and did not succeed in restoring the nation's economy. Swedish artist Anders Zorn portrayed numerous statesmen and society figures during his frequent trips to the United States. He painted this portrait in 1899, two years after Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings took place at the former president's estate in Princeton, New Jersey, where the artist and subject bantered happily for several days. Cleveland expressed satisfaction with this portrait, declaring, "As for my ugly mug, I think the artist has ‘struck it off' in great shape."
Anders Zorn, 1899
SIPGPR_170928_312.JPG: This is how they had to handle Grover Cleveland who had two non-contiguous terms.
SIPGPR_170928_321.JPG: Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924
Twenty-eighth president, 1913–1921
Elected president after earning a sterling reputation as the governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson remained committed to curbing abusive business practices and improving conditions for workers. In the wake of World War I, he tried to create a world order that would choose to prioritize peace over national self-interest, but his idealism was dismissed, both at home and abroad. The frustration Wilson felt from this rejection was compounded by his failure to convince his own country to support the League of Nations, an international organization he had conceived of as a means for avoiding future wars. He suffered a stroke in 1919 while campaigning for American entry into the League and left office in 1921, broken in both health and spirit. Wilson is most often remembered as a champion of liberal values, but recent scrutiny has drawn attention to his regressive actions with regard to women's voting rights and other civil liberties. In June 1919, John Christen Johansen, a Danish born artist living in Chicago, made portraits of the dignitaries during the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. This sketch, which he made for a larger group portrait, depicts Wilson just months before his stroke.
John Christen Johansen, c 1919
SIPGPR_170928_332.JPG: Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924
Born Staunton, Virginia
After telling the president, "it takes two to make a bust," the sculptor Jo Davidson asked Woodrow Wilson to sit on the back of an armchair, close the book he was reading, and chat. One reviewer, who deemed this bust "a perfect likeness," also commended Davidson for capturing "all the firmness of the face, without any of that sourness by which some artists unconsciously and mistakenly make people think they would not care to know President Wilson personally."
Jo Davidson, 1919
SIPGPR_170928_340.JPG: F.D. Roosevelt to Reagan
SIPGPR_170928_348.JPG: Negotiating World Peace
SIPGPR_170928_355.JPG: The Inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 30 Jan 1882 - 12 Apr 1945
Charles Evans Hughes, 11 Apr 1862 - 27 Aug 1948
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, 11 Oct 1884 - 7 Nov 1962
John Nance Garner, 22 Nov 1868 - 7 Nov 1967
Herbert Clark Hoover, 10 Aug 1874 - 20 Oct 1964
Lou Henry Hoover, 29 Mar 1874 - 7 Jan 1944
Charles Curtis, 25 Jan 1860 - 8 Feb 1936
Alfred Emanuel Smith, 30 Dec 1873 - 4 Oct 1944
James Aloysius Farley, 30 May 1888 - 9 Jun 1976
Raymond Charles Moley, 27 Sep 1886 - 18 Feb 1975
Louis McHenry Howe, 1871 - 1936
Joseph Taylor Robinson, 26 Aug 1872 - 14 Jul 1937
Bernard Mannes Baruch, 19 Aug 1870 - 20 Jun 1965
Owen D. Young, 1874 - 1962
William Gibbs McAdoo, 31 Oct 1863 - 1 Feb 1941
Albert Cabell Ritchie, 1876 - 1936
Claude Augustus Swanson, 1862 - 1939
Byron Patton Harrison, 29 Aug 1881 - 22 Jun 1941
Herbert Henry Lerman, 1878 - 1963
Thomas James Walsh, 12 Jun 1849 - 2 Mar 1933
John William Davis, 13 Apr 1873 - 25 Mar 1955
Carter Glass, 4 Jan 1858 - 28 May 1946
Norman H. Davis, 1878 - 1944
Newton Diehl Baker, 3 Dec 1871 - 25 Dec 1937
Henry Lewis Stimson, 21 Sep 1867 - 20 Oct 1950
Andrew William Mellon, 24 Mar 1855 - 26 Aug 1937
Ogden Livingston Mills, 23 Aug 1884 - 11 Oct 1937
John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., 7 Sep 1867 - 13 Mar 1943
Paul Claudel, 1868 - 1955
Sir Ronald Lindsay, 1875 - 1975?
Mark Sullivan, 1874 - 1952
Walter Lippmann, 23 Sep 1889 - Dec 1974
John Joseph Pershing, 13 Sep 1860 - 15 Jul 1948
With the exception of Abraham Lincoln, no president has ever taken office against a darker backdrop than Franklin D. Roosevelt did on March 4, 1933. With banks failing and unemployment at 28 percent, a total national collapse seemed possible, and the day's gray weather only reinforced the bleak mood. The carefully chosen words of Roosevelt's inaugural speech, however, briefly lifted the gloom, and when he broke into a confident smile at the close, the crowd cheered in relief. The optimism of that moment grew in the coming months as Roosevelt's New Dealers launched a series of innovative measures to end the Great Depression.
Mexican caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias produced this rendering of Roosevelt's inauguration for Vanity Fair, which billed it as a panorama of "magnificos, diplomats, and military commanders." In the lower right is the doleful "Forgotten Man," wearing a sandwich board -- a grim reminder of the country's dire straits.
Miguel Covarrubias, 1933
SIPGPR_170928_367.JPG: Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1882-1945
Born Hyde Park, New York
When Franklin D. Roosevelt officially declared his willingness to be the Democrats' presidential standard-bearer for a fourth time, his long-delayed declaration of availability surprised no one. When Wendell Willkie, Roosevelt's Republican opponent in 1940, heard about it, he asked, "Is that news?" After all, Roosevelt had already broken with precedent by seeking a third presidential term in 1940, and it was obvious that he did not intend to leave office until he had seen the country to final victory in World War II.
George Tames. 1944
SIPGPR_170928_379.JPG: The interactive kiosks include the original Bill Clinton portrait which the artist, Nelson Shanks, later said had the shadow of Monica Lewinsky on the fireplace.
SIPGPR_170928_384.JPG: John F. Kennedy No. 3
When Elaine de Kooning met with John F. Kennedy in 1962 and 1963, she made a number of small drawings of his features. Some of her images depict the president's entire face, but others, like this one, focus primarily on his eyes. De Kooning recalled that many of her sketches combined her own observations with images that registered in her memory, partly because the president was always shifting and moving in front of her. She was particularly concerned with capturing his expressions and his eyes. She noted, "you never know where ‘likeness' will reside," adding, "It would be possible to portray the man by drawing or painting only his eyes, so that he would be recognized instantly."
Elaine de Kooning, 1963
SIPGPR_170928_392.JPG: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Thirty-fifth president, 1961–1963
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the country experienced a collective sense of grief that it had not known since the death of Abraham Lincoln. Many Americans found it hard to cope with the sudden loss of this youthful, energetic president whose speeches had inspired citizens to achieve high ideals. In his shortened tenure as president, Kennedy proposed landmark civil-rights legislation, created the Peace Corps, and promoted the goal of landing on the moon. In foreign policy, his administration peacefully resolved a dramatic stand-off with the Soviet Union over the presence of missiles in Cuba, and he oversaw the buildup of the American presence in Vietnam.
Elaine de Kooning, known for her gestural portraits, held several informal sessions with him in Palm Beach, Florida, in December 1962 and January 1963. The artist was so moved by the president during these sittings that she went on to create dozens of drawings and paintings of him over the next ten months.
Elaine de Kooning, 1963
Jacqueline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, and Caroline Bouvier Kennedy
When Senator John F. Kennedy began laying the groundwork for a presidential bid, his father Joseph P. Kennedy engaged Jacques Lowe to help craft his son's public image. Lowe became the younger Kennedy's full-time campaign photographer, and after JFK's election in 1960, he documented the Kennedy administration as the president's personal photographer until 1962. Lowe created this appealing Kennedy family portrait in 1958.
Jacques Lowe, 1958, printed 1999
SIPGPR_170928_413.JPG: Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004
Fortieth president, 1981–1989
The ascension of Ronald Reagan, a former actor and governor of California, marked the revitalization of the conservative western wing of the Republican party that many thought had died with the defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964. As president, he challenged many of the liberal programs that had dominated the federal government since the New Deal, and throughout his presidency, he strove to cut the size of government. Reagan unapologetically reduced social welfare programs and encouraged a conservative social ethic regarding the role of religion in public life and reproductive rights, but his conservative stance led him to largely ignore the AIDS crisis. Finally, in foreign policy, Reagan guided the United States through the end of the Cold War. When he left office in 1989, the Soviet Union was already falling apart, but it did not officially break up until two years later.
Everett Raymond Kinstler, 1991
SIPGPR_170928_424.JPG: Ronald Reagan, 1911-2004
Born Tampico, Illinois
This portrait of Ronald Reagan graced the cover of Time magazine's 1980 "Man of the Year" issue. Reagan had claimed the White House in the recent November election. More important, however, the triumph of Reagan's conservatism at the polls seemed to signal a marked change in the political climate of the United States. In his calls for reduced dependence on government, he promised something quite different from recent administrations -- Republican and Democrat. As Time put it, Reagan was not only "Man of the Year," he was "idea of the year."
For this likeness, Time enlisted the services of Aaron Shikler, who has long been considered one of the country's leading traditional portraitists. Among the traits characterizing Shikler's work is a sense of intimacy, which he achieves largely through sensitive lighting.
Aaron Shikler, 1980
SIPGPR_170928_429.JPG: Ronald Wilson Reagan, 6 Feb 1911 - 5 Jun 2004
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, born 2 Mar 1931
This image documents the 1987 summit meeting in Washington, D.C., that eliminated medium-range missiles from Europe and the Soviet Union. The previous year, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had made marked progress in a meeting in Reykjavik, in which Reagan demonstrated his willingness to move away from the hard-line position of his first term. Arms-control negotiators at that meeting were appalled when Reagan suggested that both countries simply disarm. Ultimately, the Reykjavik summit foundered because the president sensed that the USSR's domestic crisis would force Premier Gorbachev to become even more conciliatory in the next round of talks. Reagan's confidence was borne out in the 1987 agreement, where the USSR acceded to American terms. As the president put it, "strength and dialogue go hand and hand."
SIPGPR_170928_441.JPG: Benjamin Harrison, 1833-1901
Twenty-third president, 1889-1893
Although the United States is a popular democracy, the American electorate has shown a predisposition for political dynasties such as the Adamses, the Kennedys, and the Bushes. Benjamin Harrison, an Indianapolis lawyer, came from a political family and was the grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison. Benjamin's political career, like his grandfather's, was aided by his military service.
During the Civil War, he raised the Seventieth Indiana Regiment, which would be instrumental in the capture of Atlanta. Ending his military career in 1865 as a brigadier general, Harrison became involved in Indiana politics and was elected to the Senate in 1881. A compromise nominee of the Republican Party for the presidency in 1888, he defeated incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland in the general election. Harrison's presidency was dominated by economic issues, especially high taxes -- or tariffs -- but the growth of government spending on his watch caused a backlash, and Cleveland came back to defeat him in the 1892 election.
Theodore Clement Steele, 1900
Lent by Harrison Residence Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
SIPGPR_170928_444.JPG: This is the first presidential portrait in the exhibition where the sitter has a wedding ring. In general, male sitters don't wear jewelry for portraits.
That was until the right wingnuts said Bill Clinton's portrait not having a wedding ring indicated he was a philander. From that point on, all portraits have both wedding rings and wristwatches.
SIPGPR_170928_459.JPG: G.H.W. Bush to Obama
SIPGPR_170928_463.JPG: The Contemporary Presidency
SIPGPR_170928_468.JPG: Barack Obama, born 1961
Forty-fourth president, 2009–17
In 2008, Barack Obama made history when he was elected as the first African American president, capping a meteoric rise in Illinois, and then national, politics. His election was taken as evidence of increasing racial tolerance in the United States. Programmatically, Obama had a series of very difficult challenges, ranging from health care to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Domestically, Obama managed a sagging economy while also enacting the Affordable Care Act. In foreign policy, he oversaw the drawdown of American troops in combat zones. Yet the issue of race remained combustible as the political culture began to fracture at the end of his second term.
Chuck Close's double portraits of President Obama are woodburytypes -- a photomechanical printing process that results in a slight relief of the image. Close intended these to function as a pair, and the close-up framing, elimination of background, and dramatic lighting allow us to engage the subject eye to eye.
Chuck Close, 2013
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Description of Subject Matter: The nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside the White House, this exhibition lies at the heart of the Portrait Gallery’s mission to tell the American story through the individuals who have shaped it. Visitors will see an enhanced and extended display of multiple images of 42 presidents of the United States, including Gilbert Stuart’s “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington, the famous “cracked plate” photograph of Abraham Lincoln and whimsical sculptures of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and George H. W. Bush by noted caricaturist Pat Oliphant. Presidents Washington, Andrew Jackson, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt will be given expanded attention because of their significant impact on the office. Presidents from FDR to Bill Clinton are featured in a video component of the exhibit.
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