When one thinks of things to do in DC, it’s often that places like the White House, Capitol Building, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial are the main topics of conversation. However, what is not often talked about are the fabulous art galleries and museums in our nation’s capital. In fact, just the Smithsonian alone has a number of art galleries and museums to keep the DC visitor engaged for days on end. Add to that mix the National Gallery of Art and you have a least a week’s worth of hoofing it from one gallery to another without even considering all the fine private galleries in Washington, DC. Let’s look at a couple of the Smithsonian art museums and then the National Gallery of Art. |
Freer and Sackler Galleries The Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur Sackler Gallery are two museums of Asian art housed by the Smithsonian Institution and connected through an underground passage. Admission to both is free and both are somewhat distinctive. The Freer Gallery is the older of the two, having opened its doors in 1923, and the Sackler Gallery having opened in 1987. Chinese paintings, Indian sculptures, Islamic paintings and metalware, Japanese lacquer, and Korean ceramics are the highlights in the Freer Gallery, with objects dating from as far back as the Neolithic times to as recent as the early 20th century. It also contains an important collection of American art from the nineteenth century that includes the most important collection of works by James McNeill Whistler, housed in the Whistler’s Peacock Room.
The Sackler Gallery has an interesting history in that, in 1979, Japanese Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira had visited the Freer Gallery of Art. Ohira announced at that time that Japan would donate $1 million to the Smithsonian if the institution would build an annex to the Freer in order to display a collection of Asian art. Following that visit and the United States Senate’s approval of the Smithsonian Institution's request for funds to build Asian and African art museums, Arthur Sackler donated around 1,000 Asian artworks and objects to the Smithsonian Institution in 1982. Valued at $50 million, his collection features permanent and temporary exhibitions of Asian art from ancient times to the present. In contrast to the collection at the Freer Gallery, the Sackler Gallery features some of the most important ancient Chinese jades and bronzes found anywhere in the world, as well as modern Japanese ceramics.
American Art Museum Another Smithsonian gallery is the American Art Museum, which was our nation’s first collection of American art and today houses works dating from the colonial period to the present. It features one of the largest collections of American art found anywhere in the world, including photography, modern folk art, African-American art, Latino art, as well as more contemporary art such as their Film and Media Arts Initiative and even video games. The museum also houses American impressionist paintings and masterpieces as well as the largest collection of New Deal art and exceptional collections of contemporary craft. The museum’s recent focus is to build its contemporary art collections, particularly in the media arts, by commissioning new artworks and through a variety of acquisitions, awards, and endowments.
National Gallery of Art Outside of the Smithsonian galleries, there are numerous private collections as well, but none compare to those at the National Gallery of Art. It was conceived by Pittsburg financier and art collector, Andrew Mellon, who believed that the United States should have its own national art museum comparable to those of other great nations. He offered to donate his extensive collection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures, from Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation and Raphael’s Alba Madonna to Francisco de Goya’s Marquesa de Pontejos, to create such a museum and also to use his own funds to build it. With the support of President Franklin Roosevelt, Congress accepted Mellon’s gift, and in March of 1937 established the National Gallery of Art. It was dedicated on March 17, 1941, and since then numerous gifts of art from other wealthy collectors have been contributed to the Gallery, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, and medals tracing the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present.
A visit to just these four galleries could consume all of one’s time in DC, not to mention so many other places of art that one could visit while exploring things to do in DC!
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