Washington DC has an extraordinarily large number of world-class museums and galleries, and the National Gallery of Art is among the very best. It houses one of the finest collections of paintings and sculptures in the world. On permanent display are works by Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Goya, Manet, Monet, Rodin, Degas, and many, many more. It’d take many hours to see everything, but even on a short visit you’re going to see something pretty extraordinary.
Although the gallery sits on a prime spot on the National Mall alongside the Smithsonian museums (and opposite the National Air and Space Museum) it is not actually a part of the Smithsonian Institution system. It is, however, publicly funded, established by an act of Congress in 1938, with Andrew Mellon providing his personal collection to get things started.
The gallery is housed in two impressive but architecturally distinct buildings and an adjacent sculpture garden; all make for beautiful spaces for showcasing art. The classical art is housed in the older of the two buildings, the West Building, and features wood-paneled galleries, marble hallways, a magnificent atrium, and indoor gardens. And even with the huge numbers of visitors the gallery attracts, it’s always possible to find a quiet spot to enjoy the art.
The modern art is housed in the East Building across the street. While it’s possible to move between them at ground level by crossing the street, a better way to use the underground walkway featuring an eye-level waterfall and a moving walkway with an animated light display. But wandering among through either building makes for quite an oasis from the bustle outside.
Photos of the National Gallery of Art
More About the National Gallery of Art
The National Gallery of Art is one of the United States’ most significant cultural institutions. Situated on the National Mall, the museum offers free public access to an extensive collection of European and American art. The collection spans from the Middle Ages to the present day, offering a comprehensive look at the historical progression of art.
The National Gallery of Art comprises two main buildings: the West Building and the East Building. The West Building, designed by John Russell Pope, houses the gallery’s collection of European paintings and sculptures from the medieval period through the 19th century. The East Building, designed by I.M. Pei, features modern and contemporary art. In addition to these two buildings, the National Gallery also maintains a Sculpture Garden.
Established through a joint resolution of Congress in 1937, the museum was initially funded by a donation from financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon. The building was constructed in a neoclassical style, designed to resonate with the surrounding architectural landscape of the National Mall. The gallery’s mission is to serve the nation by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering an understanding of works of art at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.
The museum has been instrumental in preserving and restoring artworks, with a conservation laboratory dedicated to the scientific examination, study, and treatment of the works in its collection. The National Gallery of Art also engages in research, educational programs, and public events to foster a broader understanding and appreciation of art.
How to Get to the National Gallery of Art
The most convenient metro stops are Archives/Navy Memorial (Yellow and Green lines; 0.2 miles); Judiciary Square (Red line; 0.5 miles), and Smithsonian (Blue and Orange lines; 0.7 miles).
Admission is always free, but some special exhibitions require passes. There are several cafes and eateries within the complex as well as some unusually good gift shops (one of my regular stops for holiday gift shopping).
Taking Photos at the National Gallery of Art
In general, personal photography is allowed, although there are some areas where it’s restricted, so check for signs in each gallery.
Tripods are not allowed.
There’s no blanket ban on using flash, but it’s restricted in several places, as is typical in many art galleries. Many of the main spaces are quite well-lit, often with natural light, although there are also areas with low lighting.
Your bags will be searched when you enter the building and you’ll be asked to put any large bags or backpacks in the free coat check.