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Gallery of Art in the Upper Main Hall
woodcut from William J. Rhees, An Account of the Smithsonian Institution...., ca. 1856.
Smithsonian Institution, neg. 43804-D.
The room to the west of the lecture hall was arranged as a gallery of art. It was opened with a series of portraits of prominent North American Indians deposited by the artist, John Mix Stanely, in the hope of convincing the government to purchase the extensive collection. In 1858, over one hundred Indian portraits by Charles Bird King were added to the room.
Also displayed in this gallery was a copy of "one of the most celebrated statues of antiquity," known as the "Dying Gladiator."" The location of this sculpture, far removed from the statues exhibited in the West Range, made a conscious visual comparison between the plight of the Native American peoples and the dying heroes of the classical world. It was believed that the destruction of Native American communities and lifestyles was inevitable.
Henry articulated the role of the gallery as he saw it, that "it is a sacred duty which this country owes to the civilized world to collect everything relative to the history, the manners and customs, the physical peculiarities, and, in short, all that may tend to illustrate the character and history of the original inhabitants of North America."