Research Files

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NOTE: These papers are located in the National Portrait Gallery.


  • Since 1966 the National Portrait Gallery has administered the Catalog of American Portraits (CAP), a reference collection and research facility containing photographs and documentation for more than 100,000 portraits of historically significant Americans, or by American artists. New material is added regularly from various sources, including an ongoing survey of portraits held in public and private collections across the country.
  • Initial administration of the CAP came from the Museum's Office of the Historian, with Daniel Reed, Historian, supervising the activities of CAP from 1966 to 1967. In 1967 Helen Maggs Fede was appointed the first Keeper of the Catalog, the administrative head of the Office. After her death a few months later, the Acting Historian, Virginia Purdy, administered CAP from 1967 to 1969. Wilford Cole was appointed Keeper of the Catalog in 1969 and held that position until 1974. Mona Dearborn served as Keeper from 1974 to 1984. Richard K. Doud was Keeper from 1984 to 1988, and Linda Thrift has been Keeper since 1989.
  • Under Cole, the first portrait survey, cataloging information in the southeastern United States, began. The database grew from random efforts to a more controlled information collection policy. Until 1976, however, field surveys concentrated on portraits of individuals pertinent to the American Revolution and the Bicentennial celebration. In 1978, CAP began an intense and systematic seven-year national survey funded in part by grants.
  • Today the staff of the CAP researches portraits, edits information from the field survey, incorporates portrait material into an online imaging database, and continues to provide reference service to researchers. Generally, only one-of-a-kind likenesses are recorded, such as paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Photographs, engravings, and lithographs are not included. The CAP files usually contain a photograph of the portrait, standard catalog data, a description, history of ownership, biographical sketches of subjects and artists, bibliographic references, and exhibition and conservation history. Often, archival correspondence and primary research material are included as well.
  • The CAP's online imaging database provides retrieval capabilities on almost every field of data, including the subject's principal historical distinction, portrait descriptions, time periods, regions, events, related people, and certain ethnic affiliations. Researchers may visit, write, telephone, fax, or e-mail their inquiries. Limited searching is also available on the National Portrait Gallery's World Wide Web ( and America Online (NPGOnline) sites.
  • Computerized database provides multiple access points.
  • For a further history of the creating unit, refer to the highlighted note "Forms part of" above.


(1) Portrait files, alphabetic by sitter; (2) artist files, alphabetic by artist

Repository Loc.

National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

Restrictions & Rights

(1) Some private collections information is restricted; (2) the records are located at the Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery



  • Mixed archival materials
  • Collection descriptions

Local number

SIA RU203001

Physical description

494.1 linear meters

Full Record

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