by Paolo Garretto
Pastel, lithographic crayon and gouache on board
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Known as the Big Bam, the Caliph of Clout, the Bambino, the Sultan of Swat and the Babe, George Herman Ruth is an American legend whose name is synonymous with extraordinary prowess and achievement. The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will explore the man, the legend and the portrayal of one of the greatest immortals of sports through the exhibition “One Life: Babe Ruth,” running from June 24 through May 15, 2017. The press preview will be held June 23 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Ruth was arguably the most portrayed American baseball player from the beginning of his professional career in the major leagues, in 1914, to his death in 1948. No President, Hollywood star or athlete enjoyed the limelight for as long as Ruth. In one news column or another, he appeared in the papers every week. This exhibition examines Ruth as a baseball legend, along with the marketing frenzy his name and image fueled before the commercialization of sports superstars became routine. Related themes focus on star power in an age before electronic mass media and the use of portraiture in advertising.
“Much of Babe Ruth’s legendary allure centers on his flamboyant personality, which was as big as any of his baseball records,” said James Barber historian and exhibition curator. By the media protocol of his era, he enjoyed privacy in his personal life—which would have been extravagantly newsworthy in today’s social media—without the intrusions of reporters and paparazzi. When he left the ballpark, he was free to be himself, which made him all the more approachable to his legions of fans and the public at large.”
His specialty was hitting a baseball harder and farther than anyone thought possible. His predilection to swing for the fences and belt baseballs out of ballparks across the country changed the game forever. Ruth was the ballpark sensation of his sensational era, the Roaring Twenties. Like an exciting novel, the story of Babe Ruth is layered with complexity and contradiction. This exhibition offers a glimpse at an American original and a baseball legend who pursued all that life had to offer in a Herculean way.
“One Life: Babe Ruth” will feature more than 30 objects, including prints and photographs of Ruth, in addition to personal memorabilia and selected artifacts of advertising that he endorsed. The exhibition will conclude with a look at a few of baseball’s greats—Hank Aaron, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford—who chased and broke one or more of the Babe’s long-standing records.
“One Life: Babe Ruth” is made possible through the support of the Chapman Hanson Foundation and the Guenther and Siewchin Yong Sommer Endowment.
The National Portrait Gallery’s “One Life” exhibition series dedicates one full gallery to the biography of a single individual, offering deep scholarship and a chance to showcase different aspects of the person’s life. The museum’s “One Life” room has focused on the lives and influence of Katharine Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Sandra Day O’Connor, Thomas Paine, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee and Dolores Huerta.
The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery tells the multifaceted story of America through the individuals who have shaped its culture. Through the visual arts, performing arts and new media, the Portrait Gallery portrays poets and presidents, visionaries and villains, actors and activists whose lives tell the American story.
The National Portrait Gallery is part of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture at Eighth and F streets N.W., Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000. Website: npg.si.edu. Connect with the museum at @NPG, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Tumblr.
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