Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Fall 2020 Exhibitions

By Editorial Team on October 19, 2020
“Louis Armstrong” by Philippe Halsman, gelatin silver print, 1966 (printed 1998). National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift from the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (gift of Betsy Karel). The Corcoran Gallery of Art, one of the country’s first private museums, was established in 1869 to promote art and American genius. In 2014, the works from the Corcoran Collection were distributed to institutions in Washington DC. Copyright Philippe Halsman Archive

Recent Acquisitions: Gifts from the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Oct. 9, 2020–Oct. 24, 2021
Portraits from the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s collection will be featured in the Portrait Gallery’s upcoming exhibition of recent acquisitions. Following the Corcoran’s closure in 2014, the Portrait Gallery received 80 works from the country’s first private museum. This exhibition will present more than 20 donated works, including portraits of musician Louis Armstrong, publishing icon Katharine Graham, artist Frida Kahlo, and the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Joseph Henry. Lead curator for this exhibition is Portrait Gallery Chief Curator Emerita Brandon Brame Fortune.

“Eleanor Roosevelt” by Yousuf Karsh, gelatin silver print, 1944. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Estrellita Karsh, in memory of Yousuf Karsh. Copyright Estate of Yousuf Karsh.

Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States
Nov. 13–May 23, 2021
“Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” will be the first major exhibition to explore the historical significance of this prominent position through the mode of portraiture. The exhibition, organized in collaboration with the White House and the National First Ladies’ Library, will span nearly 250 years, from Martha Washington to Melania Trump, and will feature more than 60 portraits of the First Ladies or those who undertook the role of White House hostess, alongside related ephemera, including iconic dresses. “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” is one of 11 exhibitions dedicated to women presented by the Portrait Gallery over a five-year period (2018–22), and is part of the Smithsonian American Women’s Initiative, “Because of Her Story.” On view Nov. 13 through May 23, 2021, the exhibition is curated by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, the National Portrait Gallery’s senior historian and director of history, research, and scholarly programs. A richly illustrated book, First Ladies of the United States, co-published by the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian Books, will serve as a companion for the exhibition, along with the recent volume America’s Presidents (2017). “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” is made possible through the support of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Morgan Stanley and the generosity of many other donors.

“Al Gore” by Chuck Close, Jacquard tapestry, 2009. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Ian M. and Annette P. Cumming. © Chuck Close

Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection
Dec. 4–Jan. 24, 2021 (Part II)
Currently on view–Jan. 24, 2021 (Part I)
Installed in two parts, “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection” celebrates a major acquisition of 22 contemporary portraits recently gifted or promised to the Portrait Gallery by Ian and Annette Cumming. On Dec. 4, the Portrait Gallery will install portraits by American artists Jack Beal, Chuck Close and Nelson Shanks that were either commissioned or acquired by the Cummings during their more than 25 years of collecting in consultation with D. Dodge Thompson. This second phase of the exhibition will accompany a corridor of portraits by artist Robert McCurdy, which opened on Sept. 18, and will include likenesses of prominent leaders including Al Gore, President Barack Obama, and E.O. Wilson. “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection” is curated by Portrait Gallery Chief Curator Emerita Brandon Brame Fortune and is accompanied by a limited-edition publication.

Visiting the Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is open Wednesdays through Sundays 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. at Eighth and G streets N.W. Refer to for the latest visitor safety guidelines pertaining to COVID-19, including a new requirement for free timed-entry passes for all ages. Note that that the museum has an open photography policy for hand-held cameras. For film crews, contact the Portrait Gallery’s press office to arrange access and escorts for all crews wishing to film in the galleries.

Select galleries on the Portrait Gallery’s first floor will remain closed to the public for renovations until further notice. For the latest on which galleries will be open, visit before your visit. Additional exhibition information is available via the museum’s online press room: