Chestertown, MD, April 15, 2003 — Marc Pachter, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery and an influential figure in the international museum world, will give the inaugural lecture of a new series on American art sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Washington College Department of Art. Pachter's lecture, “The Making of an American Icon: George Washington and Gilbert Stuart,” will be held Wednesday, April 23, at 5 p.m. in the College's Hynson Lounge. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
In the new series, “American Pictures,” each lecture will explore the cultural and historical meanings of a single important image. Pachter's subject, the famous “Lansdowne” portrait of Washington painted by Stuart in 1796, is an especially appropriate choice, both because of the College's connection to the sitter and Pachter's own connection to the painting.
In 2001, when the Lansdowne portrait—which had been on loan to the Smithsonian for decades—was threatened with sale by the aristocratic English family that owned it, the potential loss of such a major treasure made national headlines. Pachter canvassed the country looking for a donor to save the picture, and finally, after appearing on NBC's Today show, secured a $30 million gift from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation to purchase it and send it on a national tour.
Pachter's appearance at Washington College, however, will be the first time he has given a major public lecture on the Lansdowne portrait, which he believes helped to define the American presidency. A full-length depiction of Washington in his second term, it is, Pachter says, “a visual document comparable to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”
The New York Times has called Pachter “the Smithsonian's resident philosopher.” In a 30-year career there, he has served as counselor to the secretary, chairman of the institution's 150th anniversary celebration, and acting director of the National Museum of American History, among other roles. He has represented the Smithsonian at many international conferences, and last year delivered one of the prestigious Slade lectures at Oxford University (“Museums: Sacred Places in a Secular Age”). In 2000, he became director of the National Portrait Gallery, where he is currently overseeing a major renovation and expansion. Educated at Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley, Pachter has authored or edited books including Abroad in America: Visitors to the New Nation, Champions of American Sport, and Telling Lives: The Biographer's Art. He has been a frequent commentator, host, and interviewer on CBS, Voice of America and C-SPAN, and conducted a series of public interviews for the Smithsonian with such figures as Umberto Eco, Katherine Graham and Walter Cronkite.
The “American Pictures” series will continue in the fall, on a date to be announced, with a lecture on James McNeill Whistler by David Park Curry, curator of American arts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and creator of an upcoming Whistler exhibition at the Freer Gallery.
For more information about C. V. Starr Center events and programs, visit the Center online at http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu, or call 410-810-7156.