What the curators found while working on ‘Capital Portraits’

April 7, 2011

Carolyn Kinder Carr and Ellen G. Miles, curators of “Capital Portraits: Treasures From Washington Private Collections,” scoured the city’s homes for notable portraits that were behind closed doors and found 60 pieces by artists ranging from John Singleton Copley to Andy Warhol. These works are representative of Carr’s remarkable finds:

“Mamie Geneva Doud Eisenhower,” by Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Amateurs also paint, and we discovered this little portrait of Mamie that Eisenhower did. We took it apart in the lab and we suspect that he painted it while he was supreme allied commander of NATO and used a 1941 photograph of Mamie.”

“Sarah Weston Seaton With Her Children Augustine and Julia,” by Charles Bird King

“What interested us was two things. The painting, done in 1815, was done in Washington. Mrs. Seaton’s husband and her brother ran the National Intelligencer newspaper — that’s a nice Washington story. King was one of the few painters who hoped to capi­tal­ize on doing politicians. He stayed, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and painted. Gilbert Stuart only stayed for two years!”

“Ethel Mary Crocker (Countess de Limur),” by Giovanni Boldini

“What are you going to use to convey to the public that this is a wonderful show? This is an enormously inviting portrait. When we walked into that living room, it took your breath away.”

“Andrew Oliver Jr.,” by Joseph Blackburn

“Blackburn was an Englishman who came to America to paint in the 1750s. This pair was done in 1755 to celebrate [the couple’s] marriage. Ellen Miles asked, ‘What is going on in the background?’ And in the portrait of Andrew Oliver there is a pigeon house — people collected them in those days.”

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