Saturday, May 30, 2009

Travel Log-on-a-Blog

National Portrait Gallery Great Hall, facing south. Photograph by lynch_m_j a member of the NPG Group Pool on

My husband recently attended a pastor's briefing in Washington, D.C. and our family had the opportunity to accompany him and explore the city while he was in meetings. Since our motel was right on Capitol Hill, we decided to "hoof it" for the three days we were there. This turned out to be advantageous in more ways than one: it spared me from driving in the c-r-a-z-y traffic and it also allowed us to ooh and aah over the architecture in slow motion. Whizzing by the magnificent buildings in a car simply does not allow you to absorb the scale and grandeur of the structures.

Our first stop was the National Portrait Gallery. Of all the places in D.C. that we visited, this was my favorite. It was cool and restful inside and the crowds were not as large as the ones we encountered in many of the other Smithsonian museums. We were able to amble at a leisurely pace and take our time looking and learning.

This museum tells the history of our country via portraiture. It includes portraits of presidents and poets, important and lowly, noble and ignoble; all have had a part in making our nation what it is today.

We enjoyed listening to a guided tour which focused on art during the depression. The federal government actually hired artists to produce works of art and paid them $42 a month in wages. At the time, "starving artists" were just glad to get a steady wage. What was required in return was that the works they produced became the sole property of the portrait gallery.

The "America's Presidents" exhibition was the unanimous favorite of our family. It begins with the famous "Lansdowne" portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. I did not realize that the museum nearly lost this treasure in the year 2000, when the owner who had loaned decided he wanted to sell it. Fortunately, a donor was found to keep it in its venerable position.

This collection of presidential portraits is the only one of its kind in the nation, excepting the White House. To look at the faces of each commander-in-chief made me feel as though I knew them all just a little bit better.

My son enjoyed the architecture more than the portraits. That was understandable--as you can see from these two pictures it is magnificent in every way.

Great Hall photo by talaba

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