National Gallery a Picture Perfect Attraction in Northwest … and It’s Free!

National Gallery of Art

Where art thou: Looking for works by European masters dating to the Middle Ages? You want the West Building (above). The East Building, where more contemporary pieces can be found, is linked via an underground passage.

No one can consider themselves a true art connoisseur in the United States without visiting the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall. Oh sure, you can try to bluff and say you’ve been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or its hipper cousin in the same city, the Museum of Modern Art. Stop it already about the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and I don’t wanna hear a thing about the Field Museum in Chicago. OK, I’m sure all of these institutions are amazing; just don’t get all huffy on me.

The National Gallery of Art is special because it was created by a joint resolution of Congress, accepting the gift of tycoon, art collector and former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon in 1937, the year he died as it were. The other special thing about the museum is it’s all yours once you decide to lay down roots in Northwest, Washington, D.C.

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A true pleasure to peruse, the gallery holds 116,000 pieces, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, decorative arts and sculptures. It’s unique in that it traces the history of Western art from the Middle Ages until now – exclusively. Some of the artists featured in the gallery’s collection include Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Titian and Michelangelo. Talk about your artistic heavyweights. Even more impressive is the fact that the gallery owns the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Western Hemisphere.

But those old masters located in the West Building are only part of the Western canon. Contemporary artists such as Ray Johnson, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko are represented in the East Building. Finally, three-dimensional art has its own place at the gallery. In 1999, the 6.1-acre National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden was opened to the public. There are 17 major works on display here, including sculptures by Mark di Suvero, Roy Lichtenstein, Tony Smith and Louise Bourgeois (yes, that’s a funny name for an artist). To top it off, summertime patrons can enjoy live jazz on Friday evenings by the reflecting pool and fountain, where ice skating is available in the winter.

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There are plenty of events at the National Gallery of Art, including talks, tours (including a stunning array of foreign language tours), and film and music programs. There are also family activities for all ages. Best of all, these events are free.

The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall between 3rd and 9th Streets at Constitution Avenue, N.W. The closest Metro station is the Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter stop on the Green/Yellow Line, though there are quite a few other stations within walking distance. The gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

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Scott D

Scott D

Scott is a local writer and has been with the Apartment Showcase blog since its inception in 2010.

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