By Lisa Batchelder-Hetrick
When a new U.S. president enters office, they get to choose which portraits and artifacts of past presidents will hang in the Oval Office and be on display throughout the White House during their time in office. All other portraits can be found at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. This is the only other location outside of the White House to have a complete collection of the presidents’ portraits. These portraits are an important part of our American history!
The National Portrait Gallery also houses sculptures and other likenesses of the presidents for all to enjoy. Each piece is unique and depicts the presidents in different ways. Often they are portrayed as grand, but some are somber and show the gravity of the job they hold. These portraits and pieces of art help tell the story of our nation through those who have led us since 1789.
One interesting conversation about the art is surrounding the debate over the depiction of George Washington. Given the time he was in office, much of the country only knew him by name, and because of that, there are some questions about what he looked like at the time he was in office. We are left to trust the rendition the artists saw and shared with the world.
Did you know that the portrait of George Washington almost didn’t survive the fire at the White House in 1812? Thanks to Dolly Madison, and an enslaved man named Paul Jennings, the portrait was chopped off the wall and cut out of its frame in order to save it from the fire and preserve it for generations to come.
It has become tradition, over the past 40 years, for the portrait of the previous sitting president and first lady, to be unveiled at a ceremony held at the White House. This tradition was last held in 2018 for Barack and Michelle Obama, but at the National Portrait Gallery rather than at the White House.
We invite you to learn more by viewing the National Portrait Gallery and watching the CBS Morning Show below to see all of the portraits and artifacts for our United States Presidents.