Washington | Venus and Serena honoured by Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery

Venus Williams and her younger sister, Serena, were among 7 new names to be honoured with portraits at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, last week, and were also awarded during the National Portrait Gallery Gala on Saturday night, which was attended by more than 750 stars and luminaries from across American.

History matters and what you do matters. I just remember that moment, and it was literally beyond my dreams — and I've had some big dreams. And I've been able to have the opportunity to work for those dreams and live those dreams. Venus Williams

The 2022 Portrait of a Nation honourees gathered in the nation’s capital to formally accept their awards in person, the last Portrait of a Nation gala having taken place in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Award is awarded to individuals selected from the illustrious roster of contemporary Americans whose portraits reside in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

Recipients have made significant contributions across diverse fields and have demonstrated a significant commitment to service, and the values of creativity, individuality, insight, and inquiry.

Those honoured this year were the Williams sisters, Ava DuVernay, José Andrés, Clive Davis, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Marian Wright Edelman.


Serena Williams' portrait is by Toyin Ojih Odutola

© Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for National Portrait Gallery

41-year old Serena was introduced by Mellody Hobson, Chair of the Board of Directors of Starbucks, and explained that the artist behind her portrait had wanted to showcase her smile.

“I think it’s so important for the National Portrait Gallery to see a black woman smiling,” Serena said. “Black women are often seen as serious, and we are, but we are happy as well.

“We are the mothers. We are wives. And we are the backbone of this country, and it’s very rare that you see a piece of art, and you see that much teeth.

“You think about the Mona Lisa, she had a smirk, and now you see a genuine smile.”

Serena also spoke of the wider significance of the newly-unveiled portraits, paying tribute to their recognition of black women’s contribution to American society.

Her portrait is captioned: “This portrait of top athlete, businesswoman and social activist Serena Williams is by Toyin Ojih Odutola.”

The 23 -time Grand Slam champion later posted on Instagram: “To have a picture in the National Portrait Gallery alongside so many historical icons? Mind officially blown.

“But to be inducted with your sister? Best feeling ever. Thanks Toyin Ojih Odutola for your vision of having a treasure smile. We need to see more of that.

“And Robert Pruitt what a sensational vision you had of Venus Williams.”


(L-R) Venus Williams, Isha Price and Sonya Haffey were seen with an image of the portrait of Venus by Robert Pruitt

© Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for National Portrait Gallery

The life-size double portrait of Venus by Robert Pruitt captions Williams as an advocate for equal pay and mental health and a five-time Wimbledon champion.

When 42-year old Venus saw the portrait displayed at the Smithsonian, the 7-time Grand Slam singles champion spoke about how it had affected her.

“I walked in here and how the portraits strike you,” said the former World No 1. “History matters and what you do matters.

“I just remember that moment, and it was literally beyond my dreams — and I’ve had some big dreams. And I’ve been able to have the opportunity to work for those dreams and live those dreams.

“But this is way beyond what I could have dreamed. And I can’t imagine I’m here tonight. We made it.”


Serena (L) & Venus Williams last competed together at this year's US Open in New York

© Corey Sipkin/AFP via Getty Images

Serena announced she was ‘evolving’ away from tennis earlier this year, which sparked an emotional farewell tour across the US hard-court swing, but recently she has hinted at a return, despite enduring a season in which she failed to win a single match.

While her older sister, Venus, has yet to make an announcement about her retirement, it is clear that they both are leaving an indelible mark on the sport, and their wider societal impact will be felt for generations to come.



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