While in DC, I visited the National Portrait Gallery, primarily to see the Obama portraits. At the time I visited, I was the only guest in the gallery where Amy Sherald’s stunning portrait of Michelle Obama hangs. Seeing artworks in person allows you to appreciate their energy, seeing texture and detail hard to detect in even the best reproductions. There is power in the range of grays Sherald uses to portray skin tones and the crisp colors and pattern of the gown Ms. Obama wears. Tears welled in my eyes as I recalled her incredible poise and grace as she worked on behalf of our country while raising her girls. I then went up a floor to the galleries holding portraits of past presidents. There is a small roped off area leading toward the Kehinde Wiley portrait of Barack Obama. The vivid colors of the foliage and flowers in the background struck me first but as I took my turn in front of the portrait, President Obama’s strength of character and dignity moved me again to tears. Wiley’s glowing skin tones vibrate with life. I was so proud to be part of the electorate who brought Obama to office. And while I believe our republic is strong enough to survive even the most unqualified of office-holders, I’m saddened and disheartened by hateful rhetoric and refusal to acknowledge facts. The impeachment inquiries were gaining steam on Capitol Hill that very day.
I also stopped by the portrait of John F. Kennedy by Elaine de Kooning. It’s always been a favorite portrait of mine with its unconventional colors and loose brush strokes. Energy and the sense of movement just stilled emanate from the canvas.
A special exhibit at the gallery focused on the passage of the 19th Amendment, which acknowledges women’s right to vote. It was great seeing artifacts and learning more deeply about the movement and groups working to ensure this right. It made the portrait of women justices of the Supreme Court that much more striking. “The Four Justices” by Nelson Shanks powerfully portrays Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
The gallery shop includes an area filled with books, and I found several titles to take home with me. I enjoy reading fiction during waits at airports and while flying, and The Muralist looked like a great read. I’d read B.A. Shapiro’s earlier work, The Art Forger, and looked forward to reading about painters in New York before World War II. I recommend it! Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Challenged Modern Art by Mary Gabriel is a thick volume but so interesting. I’m familiar with several of these artists and am looking forward to learning more about the others. Agnes Martin: Her Life and Art by Nancy Princethal looks to be an interesting examination of painter Agnes Martin, a painter whose abstract pieces have inspired and compelled many artists. I’m encouraging seeing titles that recognize more women artists and their influences on the larger contexts of the art and cultural landscapes in which they worked.