One half of the Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture (along with the adjacent American Art Museum), the National Portrait Gallery was established by a 1962 Act of Congress, dedicating it to depictions of people who have made significant contributions to the history, development and culture of the United States. The museum’s collection includes 19,400 works ranging from paintings and sculpture to photographs and drawings.
Highlights among the permanent exhibits are Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington, paintings of civil rights leaders like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., a bronze bust of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and photos of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Shaquille O’Neal. You can take a break from viewing the Gallery’s works at the Courtyard Café, which opens with the museum and closes at 6:30 p.m.
The Gallery’s light-filled Greek Revival building, which housed the nation’s Patent Office from 1840 to 1932 and was completely renovated in 2006, is considered a National Historic Landmark. The Gallery’s south (and main) entrance is on F Street, while the north entrance, on G Street, serves tour groups and provides access to the store shared with the American Art Museum. On the building’s lower level, the two museums also share the state-of-the-art, 346-seat Nan Tucker McEvoy Auditorium, which stages lectures and films as well as music, theater and dance performances.
The Gallery offers no dedicated parking, but is located above the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metrorail station, which serves the Red, Yellow and Green Lines.