Unemployment had reached 15 million and almost 28 percent of the population was without any income when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated in March 1933.
Fifty years later, and things could be worse. In fact, the New Deal looks better than ever. The National Portrait Gallery's low-profile selection reassembles the faces behind the legislation that got the nation through a crisis.
"Portraits from the New Deal" opens with a drawing of FDR's inauguration scene, published in Vanity Fair in 1933. An unpublished New Yorker cartoon shows a sober, nearly grim Hoover beside a smiling Roosevelt. Also included are busts of FDR, flam-boyant General Hugh Johnson (chief of the National Recovery Administration), Harry Hopkins (the Federal Relief administrator) and Donald Richberg (Johnson's deputy and chief architect of the NRA) and a bronze by Jo Davidson of Harvard law professor Felix Frankfurter. Frankfurter, before he was named to the Supreme Court by FDR, was called "the most influential man in America," although he held no official position in the administration at the time the bust was made.
Charcoal sketches by Samuel Johnson Woolf are included, depicting Eleanor Roosevelt and several of the academics known as the Brain Trust. A cartoon of the former First Lady spoofs her all-women press conferences.
Supporters of the New Deal who later became critics are also depicted -- including William Randolph Hearst and former New York Governor Alfred E. Smith (the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate, who observed of his adversary, "Well, the people don't shoot Santa Claus"). Newsreels of the first years of the New Deal are on display, with anti-FDR pamphlets and a caricature by Albert Hirschfeld of "The Nine Old Men of the Supreme Court" who gave FDR such a hard time.
Not a big deal as portrait exhibitions go.But for those who lived it, this revival should be nostalgic. For the rest of us, it's a painless dose of history. PORTRAITS FROM THE NEW DEAL -- At the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW, this Friday through August 21. "LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN" -- A portrayal