National Portrait Gallery Presents Exhibition of Major Gifts “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection”

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.

Untitled, Toni Morrison” by Robert McCurdy, 2006. Oil on canvas. Gift of Ian M. and Annette P. Cumming

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.

The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Connect with the museum at npg.si.edu, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

National Portrait Gallery Engages Audiences Across the Country With Five-City Tour of the Acclaimed Obama Portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald

Tour To Include Chicago, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston Starting June 2021

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced a five-city tour next year of the portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, that will launch during the summer of 2021. Next year, in mid-May 2021, the Obama portraits, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, will temporarily go off view from the museum’s exhibitions for tour preparation.

The official portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama, on permanent view at The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald (Image provided by The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

The tour will commence in Chicago, June 18, 2021, and will continue, with the works traveling across the country, through May 30, 2022. This is one of several initiatives being set by the Portrait Gallery to engage communities nationwide throughout the next four years. The artworks are expected to reach millions of people who may not be able to visit Washington, D.C.

We view the country as our community,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Since the unveiling of these two portraits of the Obamas, the Portrait Gallery has experienced a record number of visitors, not only to view these works in person, but to be part of the communal experience of a particular moment in time. This tour is an opportunity for audiences in different parts of the country to witness how portraiture can engage people in the beauty of dialogue and shared experience.”

The paintings were commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and revealed in a special unveiling ceremony Feb. 12, 2018, in the presence of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the artists. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to have been selected for the National Portrait Gallery’s official portraits of a President or First Lady.

In addition to the paintings, the tour will include an audio-visual element, Portrait Gallery-led teacher workshops and curatorial presentations in each location. In anticipation of the tour, the Portrait Gallery is also publishing a book in partnership with Princeton University Press. The Obama Portraits will be released Feb. 11.

With the Obama portraits, the National Portrait Gallery continues its more than 45-year legacy of touring exhibitions. American presidents, in particular, have been the subject of several Portrait Gallery exhibitions. The exhibition “Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century” (1998 to 2000) traveled to several cities as did “Portraits of the Presidents from the National Portrait Gallery” (2000 to 2005). The museum’s acclaimed “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart toured to seven venues in “George Washington: A National Treasure” (2002 to 2004). The National Portrait Gallery’s collection includes more than 1,600 portraits of U.S. presidents and is the nation’s only complete collection of U.S. presidents accessible to the public.

Tour venues include:

  • Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago—June 18, 2021–Aug. 15, 2021
  • Brooklyn Museum; Brooklyn, New York—Aug. 27, 2021–Oct. 24, 2021
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Los Angeles—Nov. 5, 2021–Jan. 2, 2022
  • High Art Museum; Atlanta—Jan. 14, 2022–March 13, 2022
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Houston—March 25, 2022–May 30, 2022
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