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Portraits in Black: Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin

Portraits in Black: Outstanding Americans of Negro Origin

April 17, 1983 – August 21, 1983

Portraits of eminent black Americans were not found in major museums and galleries until 1944. Soon after its founding in 1922, the Harmon Foundation commissioned artists to paint portraits of eminent black Americans that would circulate as a collection. The portraits were designed to depict the contributions of accomplished African Americans to the ideals and principles of American justice and democracy, and to serve as a resource for discussions about and illustrations of African American history. The exhibition features 42 oil paintings of leaders in the fields of civil rights, law, education, medicine, the arts, and the military, including A. Philip Randolph, Jane Matilda Bolin, Helen Adele Whiting, Charles Richard Drew, Hugh Nathaniel Mulzac, and Marian Anderson. Betsy Graves Reyneau, Laura Wheeler Waring, and Robert Savon Pious painted the portraits that became known as the Harmon Collection. US Vice President Henry A. Wallace presented the first portrait, which featured scientist George Washington Carver, to the Smithsonian in 1944. The Harmon Foundation donated most of this collection to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 1967.


George Washington Carver, Betsy Graves Reyneau, 1942, Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the Smithsonian American Art Museum; gift of the George Washington Carver Memorial Committee to the Smithsonian Institution, 1944. © Peter Edward Fayard