The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC


Entrance to the Corcoran Gallery of Art
Photo courtesy of the DC SHPO

The Corcoran Gallery was founded by Washington philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran in 1869. It was originally situated at the corner of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, but rapid growth forced the relocation of the Gallery in 1897 to its present location between New York Avenue and West Potomac Park. A fine example of French Beaux Arts design with Greek inspired details, the Corcoran was designed by Ernest Flagg. Flagg, who also designed the Singer Office Building in New York and the Annapolis Naval Academy, attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. When the Gallery opened at its new location in 1897, President Cleveland attended the inauguration. Throughout its history, the Corcoran Gallery has contributed significantly to the advancement of American art through its policy of exhibiting and interpreting contemporary American Art. The Gallery also houses a comprehensive early American collection that reflects a variety of subject matter and range of expressions demonstrating the development of American art.

Corcoran founded the Gallery for the purpose of “encouraging American genius” in the arts and built the first Gallery to house his collection of paintings and statuary. The original building was restored and is now the Renwick Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. Congress approved a public act incorporating the Trustees of the Corcoran Gallery and provided it with its charter in 1870. Mr. Corcoran then gave, in addition to the original building and grounds and his personal art collection, an endowment of $900,000 for the perpetual establishment and maintenance of the Gallery. He stipulated that the Gallery be opened without admission charge to the visitors at least two days a week. He then bequeathed an additional sum of $100,000 as an endowment for the Corcoran School of Art.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art, c. 1900
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

At the present day site, a second section of the building, known as the “Clark Wing,” was built to house the collection of Montana Senator William Andrews Clark and financed by a grant from the Clark family. The Clark Wing was designed by Charles Adams Platt, who also designed the Freer Gallery of Art. A small section at the west end of the new wing was built at the same time at the Gallery’s expense. The Clark Wing was inaugurated in 1928 with President Coolidge in attendance.

The permanent collection of the Gallery consists of well over 14,000 items, most of which are American. Its collections of European holdings are based primarily on the Clark collection mentioned above, and the Walker collection, from collectors Mary and Edward Walker. The Gallery houses the Corcoran School of Art, the only professional art school in the District of Columbia, as well as varied educational programs open to the public. Not only is the Corcoran an architectural achievement in the Beaux Arts tradition, but its continual dedication to art is a contribution to the cultural heritage of the nation’s capital.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located at 17th St. and New York Ave., NW. It is open every day except Tuesdays from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. The museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Extended hours are Thursday evenings until 9:00 pm. Suggested contributions for admission to the Corcoran vary according to age and size of group. For more information please call 202/639-1700. Metro stop: Farragut West