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National Gallery of Art

Plan a visit to the Washington DC gem that is the National Gallery of Art.

The National Gallery of Art was created by a joint resolution of Congress in 1973. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
The National Gallery of Art was created by a joint resolution of Congress in 1973.

At the National Gallery of Art, visitors can feast their eyes on Alexander Calder's abstract sculptures and Henry Matisse's paper cutouts alongside drawings by Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso.

Located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the National Gallery of Art was created by a joint resolution of Congress in 1937 and funded by Andrew W. Mellon, who served as Secretary of the Treasury from March, 1921 to February, 1932. An avid art collector, Mellon promised his collection to the United States when he passed away in 1937.

Museum History

After Mellon's death, funds for the National Gallery of Art were donated by the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust. President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the building and art collections on behalf of the people of the United States on March 17, 1941. Soon after, the gallery began receiving donations of art from well-known American art collectors, businesspeople and philanthropists, including:

  • Ailsa Mellon Bruce
  • Chester Dale
  • Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch
  • Rush H. Kress
  • Samuel H. Kress
  • Lessing J. Rosenwald
  • Joseph Widener

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter accepted the gallery's East Building on behalf of the nation. As of 2008,the addition is home to growing collections of art, a research center, administrative offices, a library and a collection of drawings and prints. In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton accepted an outdoor sculpture garden on behalf of the American people. The garden is positioned on a 6.1-acre block and offers a year-round display of modern sculpture.

The Collection

The National Gallery of Art consists of three distinct areas: the West Building, the East Building and the Sculpture Gardens. It is home to one of the world's most impressive collections of Western paintings, sculpture and graphic arts, ranging from the Middle Ages through the 21st century. Highlights include Renaissance decorative arts; wax statuettes by Edgar Degas; Honor Daumier's bronze sculptures; and works by Picasso, Mir, Matisse, Pollock and Rothko.

The Italian Renaissance collection is impressive, featuring works by Titian and Raphael, the only Leonardo painting in the United States (Ginevra de' Benci), as well as:

  • Two panels from Duccio's Maesta
  • The Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Fillipo Lippi
  • Giorgione's Allendale Nativity
  • Bellini's Feast of the Gods


One of the appeals of the National Gallery of Art is that it keeps changing. The permanent collection consists of 109,000 works of art, but only a small fraction of the collection is on display at any one time. In addition, the gallery often showcases certain artists or themes in exhibits.

The very first exhibit opened on May 15, 1941, two months after the official opening of the gallery. The exhibit was called "Two Hundred American Watercolors." Since then, noteworthy exhibits have included:

  • 1948: 202 paintings from museums in Berlin were featured.
  • 1973: The first Western paintings from the Hermitage and Pushkin museums ever to leave the USSR for the United States went on display.
  • 1976: "Treasures of Tutankhamun" began its U.S. tour at the gallery and was viewed by 835,000 visitors.
  • 1985: The exhibit "Treasure Houses of Britain: 500 Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting" was seen by over one million people.
  • 1998: The museum was filled to capacity with people flocking to see "Van Gogh's Van Goghs: Masterpieces From the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam."

Visiting the National Gallery

The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW. Hours are generally 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Sundays. The gallery is closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is free. Always contact the gallery ahead of time, before visiting, to check for current hours and special exhibits.

For current exhibition and general information, visit the National Gallery of Art Web site.

Frommers recommends that you allow at least two hours to tour the museum. If it is your first time visiting, you can stop at the Art Information Room in the West building to design your own personal tour on a computer.

If you have more time, you may wish to consider signing up for a guided tour. These are offered at specific times during the day, so call ahead or visit the gallery's Web site for updated tour information.

Hungry visitors can grab a snack at several dining locations in the gallery. Popular museum eateries include the Pavilion Cafe in the Sculpture Garden, the Cascade Cafe on the concourse level and the Garden Cafe on the ground floor of the West Building.

Tourists and locals visiting during the months of October through June should consider attending the gallery's Sunday concert series. Now in its 67th season, the concert series takes place on Sunday evenings at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Seating begins in the Rotunda when the galleries close at 6:00 p.m. The concerts present classical music performances, including string quartets, pianists and chamber music. Call or visit the Web site for updated performance information.

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