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Director’s Essay Prize For Emerging Scholars In The Field Of Portraiture

Call for Nominations Open Now Through Dec. 14

In honor of the National Portrait Gallery’s 50th anniversary, the museum has announced the newly founded Director’s Essay Prize. The biennial award will foster leading research and will support emerging scholars whose expertise includes the field of visual biography and American portraiture. The award includes a cash prize of $3,000 for the author of a published essay that explores and enriches the interdisciplinary nature of American art, biography, history and cultural identity. The recipient will be asked to present a paper on their essay topic at the National Portrait Gallery during an award ceremony in fall 2019.

To qualify, scholarly essays must be under 12,000 words and must have been published in print or online within the past two years (details below). The award is by nomination only, and authors and publishers may not self-nominate. The deadline for nominations is 5 p.m. EST Dec. 14.

The Director’s Essay Prize complements the Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a triennial juried exhibition established in 2006, and is specifically dedicated to supporting the next wave of written scholarship on portraiture.

To Nominate an Essay
Please send a one-page letter that explains the work’s significance to the field of portraiture and a copy of the nominated essay. More than one person may nominate the same essay. Send letters of nomination and a copy of the essay to:

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Attn: History Department, PORTAL
PO Box 37012
Victor Building Suite 410, MRC 973
Washington, DC 20013-7012


[email protected]

If sending your nomination by email, please send it as a PDF.

Please call Jacqueline Petito, program assistant, at 202-633-8505 with any questions.


Jurors will consider single-author scholarly essays of up to 12,000 words that have either appeared in an academic journal or in a university press and/or museum publication between January 2016 and December 2018.

Author must be within seven years of having earned their PhD at the time of submission.

Essay must explore American portraiture through an interdisciplinary lens and situate the genre in a global context.

Author must be available to present a 45-minute lecture on their essay topic at the National Portrait Gallery’s award ceremony, which will take place in the fall of 2019.

Essay must be in written in English or translated to English before submission for review.

Nomination must be received by 5 p.m. EST on December 14, 2018.

Please note that no work written by an employee of the Smithsonian or produced by a Smithsonian publications office is eligible.

Award Process

The National Portrait Gallery’s scholarly center for the study of portraiture, PORTAL= Portraiture + Analysis, will appoint three scholars as jurors for the prize. Essays will be judged for their originality, interdisciplinary practice and enrichment of the field of American portraiture.

The prizewinner will be announced in spring/summer 2019 and will travel to the National Portrait Gallery in fall of 2019 to present their essay topic at an awards ceremony.


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