Heard on the Hill

Photo to Honor McCain Hung in National Portrait Gallery

Smithsonian installed 2005 portrait of late Arizona senator on Monday

Ann Shumard, curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery, talks about a photo of Sen. John McCain on Monday. The portrait, shot by Steve Pyke, was hung in the “In Memoriam” section of the museum earlier in the day. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John McCain will now greet the millions of visitors who pour into D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery hung a 2005 portrait of McCain shot by then-New Yorker photographer Steve Pyke on a wall on the first floor, just inside the G Street entrance, on Monday. The senator died on Saturday after a long battle with brain cancer.

In the black and white photo, McCain is standing outside the Capitol, behind a row of columns and looking straight into the camera with his hands together in front of him. It was taken for a profile that appeared in The New Yorker.

‘In Memoriam’ McCain Photo Hung at National Portrait Gallery

“This portrait captures John McCain on Capitol Hill and I think it sets him in context and really is an environmental portrait in the sense that it gives us context for his life and his career,” Ann Shumard, the gallery’s senior curator of photographs said. “I think the classic black and white really makes us focus on the subject so we’re not distracted by vivid color.”

She added, “The composition I think really does speak to his legacy. I think of the stability, the architecture almost reinforces McCain’s stature and stability and his legacy.”

The installation was hung just as the museum opened at 11:30 a.m. and visitors immediately flocked over to take pictures of it.

“This portrait captures John McCain on Capitol Hill and I think it sets him in context and really is an environmental portrait in the sense that it gives us context for his life and his career,” Ann Shumard, the gallery’s senior curator of photographs said. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)
“This portrait captures John McCain on Capitol Hill and I think it sets him in context and really is an environmental portrait in the sense that it gives us context for his life and his career,” Ann Shumard, the gallery’s senior curator of photographs said. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)

“We always have people waiting at the doors of the museum when we open. This year so far we’ve had more than two million visitors,” Shumard said.

Paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama were hung in the gallery in February.

“I think our popularity has been building over the years. Clearly the Obama portraits have given us a significant boost but I think that visitors when they come, even if it’s just to see those portraits, see many other things here that attract them and they come back,” she said. “That may get them in the door but I think we can count on return visits.”

Other “in memoriam” installations have hung where the McCain photograph is. Singer Aretha Franklin was honored there recently. Prince had a photo hanging there, too, when he died in 2016.

“When possible we do try to recognize the contributions of those who have passed recently,” Shumard said. “We are really pleased that we had this photograph and could install it so quickly this morning.”

While the photograph is a temporary installation, there was no end date for how long it will be displayed as of Monday.

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