The Smithsonian American Art Museum/ National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG)
grew out of the Smithsonian’s National Museum, later known as the “National
Gallery of Art”. In 1937 the Andrew Mellon gift of art was given to the
nation to form the beginning of the collection of what is now know as the National Gallery of Art. As a result, the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art became the National Collection of Fine
Arts (NCFA). When plans
were underway for the new National Portrait Gallery in 1964, the NCFA library
collections were combined with those for the new Gallery. The Library collection was then developed to reflect the missions of the two
museums with strong holdings in American art, as well as American history and
biography. In 1980, the NCFA was renamed the “National Museum of American
Art”; then in 2000 it became the “Smithsonian American Art Museum”.
The AA/PG Library's collection has many special treasures in its collection which we will feature over time. The first is a book of cartes-de-visite featuring many prominent American artists. The carte-de-visite was a type of photographic calling card that became popular with the development of photography during the mid-19th century. Collecting cards featuring famous people became popular – similar to collecting baseball cards today. Collectors could then mount the cards in pages in an album like the one reproduced here. The anonymous person who collected the cards in the AA/PG Library's album must have been interested in American art because the majority of identifiable people are American artists. Future posts will examine some of those represented.
The artists represented on this first page of the album are (clockwise, starting at the top left): Thomas Sully, Samuel Morse, Sully again, and Rembrandt Peale. —Doug Litts