A Portrait of America

By Jack Feldman

On a beautiful day in D.C., a group of Drake students including myself decided to see what the National Portrait Gallery had to offer. I had been to the gallery before and I knew that I had to see a few of my favorite paintings again. However, I was surprised at how much content I missed the first time I visited. So, my trip to take in some of the nation’s finest art was a massive success, as I was able to experience many works of art for the first time as well as seeing a few old favorites.

When I walked into the gallery I immediately took a deep breath and felt like I was at home. The gallery was the perfect getaway from a trip that has been running me ragged. Although my feet were still hurting and I ended up walking close to 20,000 steps anyway, I was at least afforded a distraction to take my mind off the loss of cartilage in my toes. All of the walking is worth it because the amount of history involved and the detail put into every exhibit is astounding. Anyone who goes learns about the person in each portrait as all of the art has bios and descriptions. It’s as much a learning experience as it is a soothing one.

Ironically, my favorite part of the portrait gallery (the old favorites I mentioned before) is the landscapes, particularly the few by Albert Bierstadt. The two paintings I admire most are called Seal Rocks, San Francisco and Among the Sierra Nevada, California. The attention to detail, the drama, the openness, and the vibrant colors are what drew me to Bierstadt’s work. He seems to perfectly strike the balance between intense action and serene beauty and I honestly can’t move on from these particular landscapes unless I look at them for 15 minutes a piece.

After admiring Bierstadt’s work, among other magnificent landscapes, I moved on to some other pieces of note. The exhibit of presidential portraits was probably my other favorite part of the gallery, there are some very interesting depictions of our presidents ranging from mosaics of Bill Clinton to sculptures of George H.W. Bush bowling. I think the best painting was the one of Richard Nixon, however. It was the most un-Nixon pose that could have ever been conceived. This portrait by Norman Rockwell puts Nixon in a playful, open pose and it amuses me as much as confuses me. Nixon always struck me as very serious and closed off, so seeing him in this new light was actually very refreshing and entertaining.

Overall, my experience at the National Portrait Gallery was a wonderful pause in a very hectic schedule. Just walking around and seeing things like Grant and His Generals, Regal sculptures of George Washington and Andrew Jackson, sculptures of Minutemen, and landscapes of the beautiful country we live in gave me a sense of serenity and patriotism all at once. It truly was a small window into America.

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