A Brief History:
The National Gallery of Art was conceived and given to the people of the United States by Andrew W. Mellon (1855–1937). Mellon was a financier and art collector from Pittsburgh who came to Washington in 1921 to serve as secretary of the treasury. During his years of public service he came to believe that the United States should have a national art museum equal to those of other great nations.
In 1936 Mellon wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt offering to donate his superb art collection for a new museum and to use his own funds to construct a building for its use. With the president’s support, Congress accepted Mellon’s gift, which included a sizable endowment, and established the National Gallery of Art in March 1937. Construction began that year at a site on the National Mall along Constitution Avenue between Fourth and Seventh Street NW, near the foot of Capitol Hill.
The mission of the National Gallery of Art is to serve the United States of America in a national role by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.
Policies and procedures toward these goals are cumulatively set forth in the Gallery’s legislation, bylaws, trustee action, and staff guidelines. The following general definitions outline the goals of the Gallery.
The Gallery’s principal duty is to keep its collections and the facilities that house them intact and in optimum condition for future generations. To carry out this responsibility, the Gallery maintains effective programs of security, environmental control, buildings maintenance, and conservation.
The Gallery limits its active art collecting primarily to paintings, sculptures, works of art on paper, and new media originating in Europe and the United States from the late Middle Ages to the present. Trustee policy allows the Gallery to accept, in addition, other significant works of art in conjunction with major donations in the primary areas of the Gallery’s collections.
The Gallery is dedicated to putting its collections on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and elsewhere by loan as well as borrowing works of art for exhibition in Washington. Because its collecting field is narrow when seen in the context of world art, the Gallery strives to supplement its own works with exhibitions of material from other times and cultures. Simultaneously, balance is sought with exhibitions that illuminate and reinforce its own collections. The highest standards of scholarship, maintenance, installation, and interaction with the public all contribute to this critical exhibiting role.
4. Fostering Understanding
The Gallery’s role as an institution dedicated to fostering an understanding of works of art operates on a broad spectrum. From advanced research conducted by its curators, conservators, and at its Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts to the dissemination of knowledge to visitors and to the widest possible online audiences, the Gallery seeks to educate. The Gallery reaches out to students of all ages and to the general public through informed publications on its collections and exhibitions and an array of educational programs, films, and online initiatives. It acquires both print and digital publications, photographic images, and other research materials related to its collections and to the history and appreciation of art in general; and it makes these resources available online or by appointment through the library, gallery archives, and curatorial records. The Gallery recognizes that both the dissemination of information and the enhancement of the aesthetic experience are essential to fostering understanding of works of art. Ancillary programs furthering its aesthetic role, such as concerts and changing horticultural displays, have been part of the Gallery’s mission virtually since its inception and have expanded to include outdoor programs in the Sculpture Garden since its opening in 1999.