'Looking History in the Eye' at Portrait Gallery

A small boy in a green pasture with a huge, hazy sun.

A cropped detail of Sam and the Perfect World by David Lenz. The full painting and other short-listed works in the 2006 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition are in the attached gallery. National Portrait Gallery hide caption

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Jason Salavon's Late Night Triad i i

Jason Salavon's Late Night Triad is an installation featuring images of three late-night TV talk-show hosts, done in a style that evokes the pixilated quality of television screens. National Portrait Gallery hide caption

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Jason Salavon's Late Night Triad

Jason Salavon's Late Night Triad is an installation featuring images of three late-night TV talk-show hosts, done in a style that evokes the pixilated quality of television screens.

National Portrait Gallery

Portraits are more than paint and canvas. They're a chance to look history in the eye.

A revitalized and refurbished National Portrait Gallery is open again in Washington, D.C. Director Marc Pachter presides over a collection of works that say a great deal — without words — about the people and events of American history.

Much of the art at the gallery has a classic, familiar feel, including the recently acquired Landsdowne portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The painting is certain to become a signature of the exhibit.

The way people are depicted in portraits is evolving, of course. Some remain as revealing as Alice Neel's direct and honest 1980 Self-Portrait — a depiction of her aging body in bright, bold colors. Some are as darkly mysterious as Jason Salavon's recent installation called Late Night Triad, which features talk-show hosts caught in a blizzard of TV snow — a style that distorts their still-recognizable images.

Meanwhile, newer artists are gaining recognition even as some rethink the portrait entirely. David Lenz, winner of the 2006 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, offers us Sam and the Perfect World, an exercise in realism that carries a magical feel, as well. His small boy in overalls, perfectly executed, is cast against an endless pasture and a huge sun in an enormous sky.

Lynn Neary leads a discussion on the art of the portrait, then and now, with Pachter, Salavon and Lenz.

George Washington

George Washington's Landsdowne portrait, by Gilbert Stuart, is a signature attraction of the refurbished National Portrait Gallery. National Portrait Gallery hide caption

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Scottsboro Boys

Scottsboro Boys is a pastel on paper work completed in 1935 by Aaron Douglas. Clarence Norris and Haywood Patterson were wrongly convicted of rape in Alabama in the early 1930s... a case infamous in the annals of racial injustice. National Portrait Gallery hide caption

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Alice Neel Self-Portrait

Alice Neel's unflinching self-portrait, painted in 1980, is an oil on canvas work. National Portrait Gallery hide caption

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