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A Beyoncé Portrait Is Coming to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

The image appeared in Vogue’s 2018 September issue and was shot by the photographer Tyler Mitchell

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter photographed on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)
smithsonian.com

Like many queens before her, Beyoncé has posed for her fair share of portraits. Among the most significant were a series of images that appeared in Vogue’s 2018 September issue, shot by then-23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell. It was the first time that the work of an African-American photographer had appeared on the magazine’s cover—and now, one of Mitchell’s Beyoncé portraits is being added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

“We are delighted to acquire this magnificent portrait of Beyoncé,” Leslie Ureña, associate curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, tells Smithsonian.com.

Mitchell first announced the news on Twitter. “A year ago today we broke the flood gates open,” he wrote. “Now I’m glad to share this picture is being acquired [by the gallery].” In a statement confirming the acquisition, Ureña said the portrait “will allow us to document a significant shift in the history of fashion photography through the depiction of a key figure in American culture.”

In the image, Beyoncé poses against a backdrop of golden drapes, her arms resting on a white column crowned with flowers. She wears a shimmering Valentino dress and an intricate Philip Treacy headpiece that radiates from her forehead like sunbeams.

Beyoncé hand-picked Mitchell, who was also one of the youngest photographers to be featured on a Vogue cover, to carry out the shoot. In the cover story, Beyoncé explained that she wanted to work with “this brilliant 23-year-old photographer” because she hoped to “open doors for younger artists,” particularly those of diverse backgrounds.

“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.

It has not yet been decided when Mitchell’s portrait will go on view at the gallery, which boasts 23,000 likenesses in its collections. Among these works are numerous portraits of singers who have left a significant impact on American history, including Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday and Madonna. Like these women, Beyoncé wields a cultural force worthy of a museum’s hallowed halls; she has already taken over the Louvre.

This is, in fact, not the first time that an image of Beyoncé will enter the National Portrait Gallery’s collection. The gallery previously acquired a promotional poster for Beyoncé’s 2003 album “Dangerously in Love.” That image was displayed in the institution’s 20th Century Americans: 2000 to Present gallery, but it is not currently on view.

Of course, one can never have too many portraits of Queen Bey. As the National Portrait Gallery tweeted after the news of the acquisition broke, “We're just so crazy in love with her that we had to do it!”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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