Smithsonian to Shutter Popular ‘Hall of Presidents’ for Renovation

The exhibition will be updated with new interactive technology.

Chuck Close, portrait of Barack Obama (2013). Courtesy of Two Palms and Chuck Close/National Portrait Gallery.
Chuck Close, portrait of Barack Obama (2013). Courtesy of Two Palms and Chuck Close/National Portrait Gallery.

The Hall of Presidents, an ongoing exhibition at the Smithsonian‘s National Portrait Gallery that features the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House, will close for a seven-month renovation beginning February 26.

The exhibition, which is being renamed “America’s Presidents,” is the museum’s most popular attraction, according to the Washington Post, and has been installed in its current form since 2006.

For most of the planned closure, “America’s Presidents” will be temporarily installed on the museum’s second floor. When it reopens on September 22, the iconic Lansdowne portrait, Gilbert Stuart’s 1796 painting of George Washington, our nation’s first Commander-in-chief, will return to public view after 18 months of conservation and analysis.

Gilbert Stuart, Lansdowne portrait of George Washington (1796). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

Gilbert Stuart, Lansdowne portrait of George Washington (1796). Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

The $3 million renovations will see the installation of new carpeting and light fixtures, with the incorporation of new interactive technology that will help visitors better understand the history of our country’s leaders. Touch screens will offer access to related photographs and paper works in the museum’s collection that are not currently on view.

In addition to featuring all 44 former presidents, the updated exhibition will include larger sections on Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

"America's Presidents" at the National Portrait Gallery. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery/photographer Matailong Du.

“America’s Presidents” at the National Portrait Gallery. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery/photographer Matailong Du.

“We’re telling a fairly complicated story about personality and social history,” senior historian David Ward told the Post. “We’re trying to provide more about the historical period, Lincoln and the crisis of the republic, FDR and the New Deal, the history of the presidency in relation to the country, the growth and rise of executive power.”

The museum adds a portrait of each new president, commissioned in conjunction with the administration, to the exhibition following the completion of their term. Until former President Barack Obama’s official portrait is completed, the display will feature a 2013 woodburytype of the politician by Chuck Close.


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