National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is an American national art museum situated in Washington D.C. It owns one of the greatest art collections in the world, featuring 2,000 works including paintings, sculpture, prints, fine art photography, installation art and items of decorative art such as porcelain and glassware.
The gallery charges no entry fee, and welcomes around 5 million visitors every year. Currently under the directorship of Earl A. Powell III, its mission statement is to “serve the United States of America by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art, at the highest possible professional and scholarly standards.”
History and foundation
The National Gallery of Art was founded in 1937 by a joint resolution of the United States Congress, funded by the donations of the financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon.
Mellon died in 1937 and his extensive art collection, built up during the 1920s, was given as a gift to the American people along with money raised by the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust which was formed in 1930. In 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the completed building, designed by architect John Russell Pope, and the collections on behalf of the people of the United States of America.
The foundation of the gallery as a separate entity to the Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Art (now known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum) led to a number of high profile donations from notable collectors such as Samuel and Rush H. Kress, Joseph Widener, Chester Dale, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch along with individual gifts from hundreds of other donors.
Throughout the 20th century the gallery’s collections grew through acquisitions and donations, and in 1978 the new East Building was opened to house an expanded exhibition space, along with an extensive library and research centre. The construction was funded by the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust along with contributions from Mellon’s children Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce.
The outdoor sculpture garden was opened in 1999 to provide a suitable home for the gallery’s collection of modern sculpture, and was a gift to the nation by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.
Departments and collections
The gallery’s collections are divided into five separate areas. These are:
The collection features work from European old masters, 19th century artists such as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh, pre-20th century American artists and an extensive collection of modern and contemporary work by Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
The sculpture collection features work by Auguste Rodin and Edgar Degas, along with important pieces by Joan Miro, Tony Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Hector Guimard, Claes Oldenburg and Mark di Suvero.
Works on Paper
The National Gallery's collection of prints, drawings, and illustrated books consists of almost 100,000 Western European and American works on paper and vellum dating from the 11th century to the present day. It also features 18,000 watercolour renderings of American decorative arts objects from the colonial period to the 19th century.
The collection contains more than 10,000 photographs that span the entire history of the medium, including 1,311 pieces donated by Georgia O’Keeffe from the collection of her late husband, seminal American photographer Alfred Stieglitz.
The National Gallery has an extensive collection of European furniture, tapestries, and ceramics from the 15th and 16th centuries along with Chinese porcelain, maiolica from Renaissance Italy and an expansive collection of 18th century furniture.
The National Gallery is home to the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas, the ‘Ginevra de' Benci’ painted in 1474. It was purchased by the gallery in 1968 from the Princely House of Liechtenstein, for a then-world record price of $5 million.
The gallery also owns the famous Salvador Dali work ‘The Sacrament of the Last Supper’, completed in 1955 after nine months of work. Since 1955 it has been on display in the gallery and remains one of the most popular exhibits for visitors.
Another favourite is Renoir’s ‘A Girl With a Watering Can’, painted in 1876. It was donated to the gallery in 1962 as part of the Chester Dale Collection.
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