Brought about by the benevolence and generosity from the financier and art collector, Andrew W. Mellon, the National Gallery of Art opened its doors in 1941 as an art museum dedicated to the citizens of the United States of America. Believing that the nation deserved an open and free collection of its own, Mr. Mellow financed the erection of the original West building, as well as the paintings and sculptures that served as a foundation to what then became an exceptional collection of art for which the Gallery boasts today.
This three-hour tour of the National Gallery will allow you to discover along with an art historian the beautiful collections of the West Building. We will study some of the Gallery’s most valued and cherished works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Jan van Eyck and JMW Turner, as well as we will expose hidden gems along the way.
We will commence our art exploration at the entrance of the West Building facing the National Mall with a brief discussion of the founding of the Gallery and an examination of the building itself to help situate us better. Inside, we will proceed to explore the topic of philanthropy (which played a significant role in the establishment of the Museum) and the arts in the early 20th century as we direct our focus to the Founders Room and portraits of the Gallery’s earliest benefactors. We will discuss the early vision of these generous individuals, which was to bring the United States a collection with the distinction of other national collections such as the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London. As we navigate the galleries of the West Building, we will come across the National Gallery’s earliest masterworks. As we will have time as a friend on our side, we will have the chance to explore various centuries of artworks from Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings to primitive scenes created by American Realists of the 19th century - boxing rings and realistic urban settings. As we are visually explore the different artworks, we'll learn about the development of the major genres of western art, such as portraiture, still-life, and landscape.
The new sculpture galleries will illuminate our transition from the two-dimensional world of painting to these three-dimensional treasures. Here we will observe art from the Middle Ages through the early 20th century, works ranging from sculpture to decorative arts of the Renaissance and eighteenth-century France, Italian Renaissance medals and plaquettes, and Chinese porcelains. By the end of our time together we will have seen some of the most outstanding works in the history of western art. We will also have a deeper understanding of the visions of creating a collection for the nation and how that collection has developed in the 70 years of the Gallery’s history. For those who wish to continue learning about the Gallery’s exciting growth, you will be perfectly poised join the America's Collection Then and Now Walk, which takes place in the Gallery’s East Building.