Sunday, August 23, 2009

National Portrait Gallery

This afternoon I had the pleasure of exploring the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. The gallery is co-located with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, both residing in the magnificent old Patent Office building at 8th & G Streets NW. The Greek Revival building itself is a work of great art -- built between 1836 and 1868, it was described by Walt Whitman as the "noblest of Washington buildings". It includes a magnificent covered courtyard (with a delightful coffee shop) and a diverse and fascinating collection of American portraits. These include the portrait of every American President.
I found only two aviation-related works in the portrait gallery. The first is a 1939 bronze bust of Charles Lindbergh by Joseph Davidson:

The second work is a Rauschenberg lithograph titled Brake, depicting the Apollo I astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee (they appear at the lower right):
According to the caption accompanying the piece, the stone that the artist was using to print the work actually broke during printing -- which he found fortuitous, so he continued to use it, leading to the unique appearance of the work.
We had time just for a rapid tour through the Portrait Gallery -- we're saving the American Art Museum part for another day. If you find yourself in DC with three or four hours to spare, I do highly recommend this museum. Take the Red, Green or Yellow Metro to the Gallery Place/Chinatown station...it's right there. Worth it!

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