Sneak Peek: Masterpieces From the National Portrait Gallery

The winter 2014 issue of Drawing focuses on the topic of portraiture, and one of the highlights in this issue is a new installment in our Curator’s Choice series, which takes us into the vaults of the National Portrait Gallery (www.npg.si.edu).

The National Portrait Gallery, a part of the Smithsonian Institution, collects portraits of and by notable Americans, including many of the most famous figures in American history. For the article in Drawing, Wendy Wick Reaves, the senior curator of prints and drawings at the museum, chose 10 of her favorite drawings from its collection.

Here, we present two of Ms. Reaves’ selections, along with excerpts from our discussion about the images. To see the full list, subscribe to Drawing or purchase or download the winter 2014 issue. You don’t want to miss the full article–the artwork is amazing, and it’s extra fascinating because it casts some recognizable faces from American history in a unique light.

Pocahontas

Pocahontas
by Simon van de Passe, 1616, engraving.
Collection National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

“This intriguing engraving tells a lot of stories,” says Reaves. “First, it gives us a lot of information about Pocahontas. This engraving is the only life portrait we have of her—it would have been based on a painting, but the painting is lost. You can see her strong features and regal bearing that people of the time commented on.”

George Washington

George Washington
by Charles Willson Peale, 1778, mezzotint.
Collection National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC.

“This little print spawned an enormous number of copies,” says Reaves. “Versions of it appeared in engravings, books, children’s primers, and almanacs, such that Washington’s face would be recognized even in the crudest relief-cut versions.”

 

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