Exterior View, National Gallery of Art, Washington

National Gallery of Art, Washington

About the Museum


Interior of the West building

Interior, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Interior of the West building
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Interior of the West building

Exterior View, National Gallery of Art, Washington
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Exterior View, National Gallery of Art, Washington

West Building Rotunda
Copyright:Property of Charles H Bauduy, National Gallery of Art, Washington

West Building Rotunda

Interior of the National Gallery of Art featuring Lucian Freud paintings
Denis Mortell Photography 2016, National Gallery of Art, Washington. Photo: Denis Mortell

Interior of the National Gallery of Art featuring Lucian Freud paintings

The National Gallery of Art was founded in 1937 by the Congress of the United States following a request by Andrew W Mellon, who believed that the country deserved a national fine art museum as grand as others around the world. It is one of the largest in North America and boasts an extraordinary collection that reaches from the early Renaissance to the present day. Its Neo-Classical West Building houses significant works by masters from the 13th through to the 19th centuries. Renovated in 2016 to expand exhibition spaces, I.M. Pei’s striking triangular East Building is home to later works, by pioneers of European Modernism through to contemporary media artists.

Collection Highlights


Frederic Edwin Church

Niagara

Leonardo da Vinci

Ginevra de' Benci [obverse]

Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait

Edward Hopper

Ground Swell

Amedeo Modigliani

Chaim Soutine
National Gallery of Art, Washington: Collection Highlights

Frederic Edwin Church

Niagara, 1857
oil on canvas, 101.6 cm x 229.9 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund)
Niagara's tremendous success both in the United States and abroad secured Frederic Edwin Church's reputation as the most famous American painter of his time. In the 19th century, many American artists attempted to capture the power and beauty of Niagara Falls. Church's majestic 1857 canvas reveals the vista from the Canadian shore, based on oil and pencil sketches he had made during several visits to the site in 1856. He was the first to render the spectacle on such a grand scale, with such fine detail, naturalism, and immediacy.

Leonardo da Vinci

Ginevra de' Benci [obverse], c.1474-1478
oil on panel, 38.1 cm x 37 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
She was the daughter of a wealthy Florentine banker, and her portrait—the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas—was probably commissioned about the time of her marriage at age 16. Leonardo himself was only about six years older. The portrait is among his earliest experiments with the new medium of oil paint; some wrinkling of the surface shows he was still learning to control it. Still, the careful observation of nature and subtle three–dimensionality of Ginevra's face point unmistakably to the new naturalism with which Leonardo would transform Renaissance painting.

Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait, 1889
oil on canvas, 57.2 cm x 43.8 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney
Although his career was brief, lasting a mere 10 years, Vincent van Gogh proved to be an exceptionally prolific and innovative artist. While he experimented with a variety of subjects—landscape, still life, portraiture—it is his self–portraits that have come to define him as an artist. This self–portrait is a particularly bold painting, apparently executed in a single sitting without later retouching. Here Van Gogh portrayed himself at work, dressed in his artist's smock with his palette and brushes in hand, a guise he had already adopted in two earlier self–portraits. While the pose itself and the intense scrutiny of the artist's gaze are hardly unique—one need but think of the occasionally uncompromising self–portraits of Rembrandt—the haunting and haunted quality of the image is distinct.

Edward Hopper

Ground Swell, 1939
oil on canvas, 91.92 cm x 127.16 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, William A. Clark Fund)
Despite its bright palette and seemingly serene subject, Ground Swell echoes the themes of loneliness and escape typical of Hopper's oeuvre. The blue sky, sun-kissed figures, and vast rolling water strike a calm note in the picture; however, the visible disengagement of the figures from each other and their noticeable preoccupation with the bell buoy placed at the center of the canvas call into question this initial sense of serenity. Although Hopper resisted offering explanations of his paintings, the signs of impending danger here may also reference a more severe disturbance: during the time that Hopper worked on Ground Swell, from August to September 15, 1939, World War II broke out in Europe.

Amedeo Modigliani

Chaim Soutine, 1917
oil on canvas, 91.7 x 59.7 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Chester Dale Collection
While many of Modigliani's portraits are either stylized and impersonal—with eyes often left blank—or almost caricatural, this painting seems to be both particular and sympathetic. Soutine sits with tumbling hair and ill-matched clothes, his hands placed awkwardly in his lap, his nose spreading across his face as he stares out of the frame. The half-closed eyes, one slightly higher than the other, might suggest Soutine's despair and hopelessness, attitudes with which Modigliani could identify as a poor artist in Paris. Modigliani's treatment of Soutine may also reflect the special place that Soutine had won in the older artist's affections.
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