The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, home to more than 23,000 portraits of iconic American figures ranging from Rosa Parks to the entire collection of U.S presidents, just added a portrait of Beyoncé to its collection, immortalising her among the greats.
It wasn’t just any portrait of course, the historic image was shot by then-23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell who made history last year as the first black photographer to shoot the cover of Vogue. His intimate photos of Beyoncé were widely celebrated as they graced the magazine’s September 2018 issue. Mitchell had been personally selected by Beyoncé as her photographer.
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A year ago today we broke the flood gates open. Since then it was important to spend the whole year running through them making sure every piece of the gate was knocked down. And now I’m glad to share this picture is being acquired into the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection
“When I first started, 21 years ago, I was told that it was hard for me to get onto covers of magazines because black people did not sell,” Beyoncé said in extended captions for the issue. “Clearly that has been proven a myth. Not only is an African American on the cover of the most important month for Vogue, this is the first ever Vogue cover shot by an African American photographer.”
She continued, “It’s important to me that I help open doors for younger artists. There are so many cultural and societal barriers to entry that I like to do what I can to level the playing field, to present a different point of view for people who may feel like their voices don’t matter.”
The portrait that the Smithsonian chose to acquire features mystical Beyoncé in a gold Valentino dress and a sun-like Philip Treacy crown, leaning towards a classic white column with flowers, all set against a golden backdrop.
The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery selects and displays portraits of people who contribute to and shape the American national identity to hang in its collection. No exhibition date has been announced as they are still in the planning stages of when the portrait will be displayed.
Associate Curator of Photographs, Leslie Ureña, said in a statement that staffers were “thrilled to acquire this magnificent portrait and that it “will allow us to document a significant shift in the history of fashion photography through the depiction of a key figure in American culture”.
“Until there is a mosaic of perspectives coming from different ethnicities behind the lens, we will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like,” she said of Mitchell’s selection. “It’s important to me that I help open doors for younger artists,” she added.
Mitchell, who previously shot for Teen Vogue as well as Marc Jacobs, told the New York Times that he depicts black people and people of colour “in a really real and pure way.”
His work will now join the ranks of other black photographers featured in the gallery, including Roy DeCarava, Gordon Parks, Kwame Brathwaite, James Van Der Zee and Augustus Washington.