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Things You Didn’t Know About the National Gallery of Art…

National Gallery of Art


The National Gallery of Art is one of the top three art museums in the United States by annual visitors. It is the only one that has no admission fee, and according to The Art Newspaper (March 28, 2022), in 2021 the NGA attracted 1,704,606 visitors, ranking fifth on the list of most visited art museums in the world. Among them  are the dozens of WPS clients who have participated in our “It’s The Composition, Stupid”  photo safaris over the past 23 years!

The museum stands on the former site of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, where in 1881 a disgruntled office seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot President James Garfield. The railroad station was demolished in 1908 in preparation for the redesigned National Mall Eventually the site was assigned to the NGA.

It took a joint resolution of the United States Congress to privately establish the museum in 1937. Andrew W. Mellon donated a collection of 126 paintings and 26 sculptures as well as funds for construction. The original neoclassical West Building designed by John Russell Pope, who also designed the National Archives Building, the Jefferson Memorial and DAR Constitution Hall.

The Gallery’s East Building was designed in the 1970s by famed architect I.M. Pei and was opened on June 1, 1978 by President Jimmy Carter. The design received a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1981.

After more than 30 years of planning, the Sculpture Garden was the final element of the complex, completed in 1999. Designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin, the 6.1 acre garden has 21 modern sculptures on the grounds and a circular reflecting pool and fountain form the center of its design, which is transformed into an ice skating rink during the winter!

The National Gallery of Art is home to over 145,000 works of art and is NOT part of the Smithsonian.

The only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas, Ginevra de’Benci, is on display in the West Building.

In 2008, the light sculpture Multiverse by Leo Villareal opened in the Concourse Walkway between the East and West Buildings. It features approximately 41,000 computer-programmed LED nodes that run through channels along the entire 200-foot long space. It took 3 years to design the project, and was originally supposed to be on display for one year, but with the help of Sen. John D. Rockefeller and his wife Sharon, the NGA was able to purchase the installation for its permanent collection.

As part of the renovation of the East Building, completed in 2016, a 14 1/2 foot blue rooster as installed in an outdoor sculpture garden on the roof of the building. The rooster, which was originally commissioned for the City of London’s contemporary art series in Trafalgar Square in 2013 was acquired by the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD. It was on long-term loan to the National Gallery, and in March 2021, the Glenstone Musuem donated the Blue Rooster to the National Gallery’s permanent collection.

To visit and photograph some of the more notable works (using your Smartphone) at the NGA, book a space on the July 24 Smartphone Photography Safari at the National Gallery of Art

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