National Gallery of Art

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Opened in 1941 as an art gallery “for the nation”, Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art boasts one of the country’s largest collections of Western art and sculpture.

National Gallery of Art, West Wing, Washington DC
National Gamllery of Art

Brief History

A resolution of Congress in 1937 established the idea of an art gallery where the people of the U.S. could view and learn about great works of art. Started with a collection of 141 works of European art donated by Andrew W. Mellon – an important American banker and industrialist – at the time of his death that same year, the gallery soon caught the eye of many other great collectors, who also began donating important works to the new gallery.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the new home of the new art gallery, located at the National Mall. Now known as the West Building, the museum was built at the site where President Garfield was assassinated in 1881. The museum continued to grow throughout the decades, and in 1978, an East Building was added to the complex, providing more space for exhibits as well as a research center and offices.

About the Buildings

East Wing, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
East wing

The two buildings of the National Gallery of Art – the East and West Buildings – sit adjacent to each other and are joined by a spacious tunnel that runs under 4th Street. The two structures are very diverse in style.

Rotunda, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Bust of Francesco Barberini by Bernini, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Bust of Francesco Barberini by Bernini

The original building was designed by John Russell Pope, who later went on to create the Jefferson Memorial. Pope’s design is neoclassical and resembles the Pantheon, with a large dome and columned portico – not unlike the Jefferson Memorial. It has two symmetrical extended wings. The West Building houses works by pre-twentieth century American artists, as well as European masters from the medieval period through the nineteenth century.

The East Building, on the other hard, is starkly modern. Designed by the famous I.M. Pei, this building is quite geometrical and resembles a collection of prisms molded together to form one building. As is appropriate, this building houses the modern and contemporary art collections.

Across 7th Street, guests can head to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, with a variety of works surrounding a circular fountain that’s used as an ice rink in the wintertime.

The concourse, which is the walkway that joins the two buildings, offers visitors a food court and gift shop.

The collection

Houses of Parliament, Claude Monet, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Houses of Parliament (Monet)

The National Gallery of Art contains an extensive collection of pre-twentieth-century European art, including Italian, Dutch, Flemish, Spanish, French and British collections, with works of art by famous artists such as Titian, Raphael, da Vinci, Monet, Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt and Rodin.

And naturally there’s also an interesting collection with works by American artists.

The largest part of these collections consists of paintings, but there’s also an interesting exhibit of sculptures; both collections can be found in the west building. The east building is home to a number of modern works of art from artists such as Henry Moore and Joan MirĂ³.

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