Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
George Washington stood just behind the receiving line, his right hand outstretched as though to greet the 300 guests who were filing through, mumuring "congratulations" and "so nice to be here" to S. Dillion Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian, and Marvin Sadik, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
Washington's left hand in full-length portrait by Gilbert Stuart, clasped the hilt of a sword - sheathed but ready for action, perhaps to spear some of the hors d'oeuvres that were being carried on trays throught the festival crowd in formal evening wear that packed the National Portrait Gallery's Hall of Presidents Wednesday night.
The Gallery, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary of official functioning, was long one of the "waifs and strays of the Smithsonian," according to Ripley. It has since been handsomely compensated. With the National Collection of Fine Arts (another former waif that existed for a long time before it had a permanent home), it has for 10 years shared the former patent office building on what is now a pedestrian mall at 8th and F Streets NW - a handsome, historic old building that was nearly torn down for a parking lot but saved by a vigorous campaign of protest in the 1960s.
The guests dined in the building's great hall, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address and Clara Barton set up an emergency hospital during the Civil War, with portraits of famous Americans staring down as they chewed their chicken and sipped champagne.
"It's a family affair tonight," Ripley remarked, and Sadik noted that "virtually everyone here has contributed in a significant way to make the National Portrait Gallery the remarkable institution it has become in the last 10 years."
Earlier in the day, 67 of the gallery's benefactors had been awarded medals - persons ranging from Paul Mellon and Gwendolyn Cafritx to Gen. Mark Clark, Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein and John Nicholas Brown, father of J. Carter Brown and chairman of the gallery's board of commissioners.
Sadik noted proudly that "when we began, we were getting 165,000 visitors per year, and now it's up to half a million," and added, eager to give credit where due, that the convenience of the Metro may have helped.
"When the gallery opened 10 years ago," said Ripley, "it seemed too little and too late . . . but now it has developed into a research center for the study of the total environment of our forefathers, in all walks of life and at all levels."
Estimates on how many portraits are in the collection ranged during the evening from 1,500 to about 2,000 - it depends partly on whether you count small drawings and photographs, and also whether you count the portraits that are not - or not yet - eligible.
All acquisitions have to be approved by the gallery's commissioners, and there are several basic requirements. The easiest one to check out is that the subject must be dead for at least 10 years or a president of the United States (there was some discussion among the guest about which of these requirements would be more unpleasant.)
One candidate who has not fulfilled either of these requirements is Aaron Copland. A portrait of him has been acquired but is not on display. It now hangs in one of the gallery's offices.
Other requirements are more elastic. The subject must be American - but Winston Churchill is included, having been voted American citizenship by Congress. The subject must also be prominent - a requirement which can lead, naturally, to endless debate.