The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery presents “Visionary: The Cumming Family Collection,” revealing the results of more than 25 years of inspired collecting by Ian and Annette Cumming and installed in two parts. Part two, featured here, includes portraits by American artists Jack Beal, Chuck Close and Nelson Shanks. This exhibition is curated by Chief Curator Emerita Brandon Brame Fortune and will be accompanied by a limited-edition publication.
Beginning in 1995, the Cummings worked with their friend D. Dodge Thompson to commission or acquire more than two dozen portraits of national and global leaders. The collection includes likenesses of Warren Buffett, Al Gore, Denyce Graves, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison and E.O. Wilson, all of which were created by important American artists. Twenty-two of the portraits are gifts or promised gifts to the Portrait Gallery, among them “The Four Justices” by Shanks, an iconic group portrait featuring the women of the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
“There is a long history of commissioning portraits for public institutions,” Fortune said. “Commissioning portraits for a personal collection, however, has become very rare. We are fortunate to receive this substantial gift of works by leading American artists and thank the Cumming family for their support of artists and their generosity toward the museum.”
In America’s early years, a few patrons commissioned portraits from leading artists of the day. Thomas Jefferson, for example, chose to support representations of the great heroes of the American Revolution and leaders in government, science and the arts. Today, the Cummings’ vision and enlightened patronage have resulted in portraits of figures whose work has advanced the fields of art, science and business, as well as civil rights and activism. Portraits in the exhibition span the years 1984 to 2020.