The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery presents “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection,” revealing the results of over 25 years of inspired collecting by Ian and Annette Cumming. The exhibition will feature commissioned portraits of internationally recognized subjects by prominent American artists such as Chuck Close, Robert McCurdy and Nelson Shanks. “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection” is curated by Brandon Brame Fortune, the National Portrait Gallery’s chief curator. The exhibition will be on view April 24–Jan. 18, 2021.
Beginning in 1995, the Cummings worked with their friend D. Dodge Thompson to commission or acquire over two dozen portraits of national and global leaders. The collection includes likenesses of Warren Buffett, Al Gore, Denyce Graves, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison and E.O. Wilson, all of which were created by important American artists. Twenty-two of the portraits that will be on view are gifts or promised gifts to the Portrait Gallery, among them “The Four Justices” by Shanks, an iconic group portrait featuring the women of the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“There is a long history of commissioning portraits for public institutions,” Fortune said. “Commissioning portraits for a personal collection, however, has become very rare. We are fortunate to receive this substantial gift of works by leading American artists and thank the Cumming family for their support of artists and their generosity toward the museum.”
In America’s early years, a few patrons commissioned portraits from leading artists of the day. Thomas Jefferson, for example, chose to support representations of the great heroes of the American Revolution and leaders in government, science and the arts. Today, Ian and Annette Cumming’s vision and enlightened patronage have resulted in portraits of figures whose work has advanced the fields of art, science and business, as well as civil rights and activism.
The exhibition’s main corridor will be dedicated to portraits by McCurdy. Major works by Jack Beal, Close, Richard Estes, Alex Katz and Shanks will be on view in the adjacent galleries. Portraits in the exhibition span the years 1984 to 2020.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of the United States through the individuals who have shaped American culture. Spanning the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.
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