Agency history, 1962-

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  • Pachter, Marc
  • Nagel, Charles 1899-1992
  • Sadik, Marvin S
  • Brown, John Nicholas 1900-1979
  • Fern, Alan Maxwell 1930-
  • Sullivan, Martin E (Martin Edward) 1944-2014
  • Reaves, Wendy Wick 1950-
  • Sajet, Kim
  • Brady, Mathew B. approximately 1823-1896
  • American Federation of Arts
  • American Mission to Negotiate Peace
  • National Arts Commission
  • United States Congress
  • National Portrait Gallery (U.S.) Catalog of American Portraits
  • National Portrait Gallery (U.S.) Charles Willson Peale Papers
  • National Collection of Fine Arts (U.S.)
  • National Museum of History and Technology
  • National Gallery of Art (U.S.)
  • Arts and Industries Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Patent Office Building (Washington, D.C.)


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • Guide to the Smithsonian Archives
  • Smithsonian Institution, "The National Portrait Gallery," [], 14 September 1999.
  • The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is dedicated to the exhibition and study of the portraits of individuals who have made significant contributions to American history and culture. The Gallery sponsors a variety of scholarly and public activities for audiences interested in American art and history. NPG holds recordings, videotapes and thousands of films pertaining to objects, people and events.
  • In 1919, interested citizens began actively lobbying for a national portrait gallery. That year the Smithsonian Institution, through its National Gallery of Art (renamed the National Collection of Fine Arts in 1937), the American Federation of Arts, and the American Mission to Negotiate Peace endorsed the National Arts Commission. Its purpose was to commission American artists to create a pictorial record of World War I through portraits of American and the Allied Nations leaders. The result was twenty portraits which went on exhibit in the Natural History Building in May 1921 and again in 1923 after traveling in exhibitions throughout the United States. These portraits formed an early nucleus for what became the National Portrait Gallery's permanent collection. While the Gallery was not officially established at the time, donations of portraits received since 1921 were accepted in preparation for its future opening.
  • Congress officially established the National Portrait Gallery in 1962 as a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, "a free and public museum for the exhibition and study of portraiture and statuary depicting men and women who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the people of the United States, and of the artists who created such portraiture and statuary."
  • The Smithsonian Board of Regents appointed the first NPG Commission in 1963, which elected John Nicholas Brown as its head. The first NPG Commission defined two main objectives for the Gallery based on its congressional mandate: acquisition and exhibition of portrait and statuary of those who have made significant contributions to the history, development, and culture of the United States; and establishment of the Gallery as a research center for American biography, iconography, and history.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, NPG initiated several programs to carry out its second objective, providing a research center for American biography, iconography, and history, by establishing the Catalog of American Portraits and the Charles Willson Peale Papers.
  • Between 1964 and 1969, NPG began adding to the small collections of portraits acquired on its behalf by the National Collections of Fine Arts (NCFA). The National Gallery of Art (the name given the gift to the nation of the Andrew Mellon collection in 1937) transferred thirty-four portraits which Mellon had designated for a future national portrait gallery in his 1937 bequest. NCFA and the National Museum of History and Technology (currently National Museum of American History) also transferred portraits from their collections, including works from the original Smithsonian collection. For many years, the core of the Gallery's collections was stored with and shown by the National Collection of Fine Arts, now the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in the various locations where the National Collection was housed. The first official gallery exhibition was shown in 1965 in the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building. The gallery moved from the Arts and Industries Building in 1967 to its present location in the historic Patent Office Building, sharing it with the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • Congress increased the Museum's ability to add to its collections when it passed an act in 1976 allowing it to collect portraits in all media, most notable photography. In 1981, 5,419 glass negatives from the Matthew Brady Studio were acquired as a group from the Frederick Hill Meserve Collection.
  • Directors of NPG since the Museum became a separate Smithsonian bureau have been Charles Nagel, 1964-1969; Marvin S. Sadik, 1969-1981; Alan Maxwell Fern, 1982-2000; Marc Pachter, 2000-2007; Martin E. Sullivan, 2008-2012; Wendy Wick Reaves, Interim Director, 2012-2013; and Kim Sajet, 2013- .

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1962
  • 1962-


  • Art museums
  • Portraits, American


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00008

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