The Corcoran Gallery of Art stands as a major center of American art, both historic and contemporary.Founded for the purpose of encouraging American genius, the Corcoran’s extensive collection includes 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century American art representing the most significant American artists.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located at the corner of the 17th Street and New York Avenue in Washington, D.C..
The Corcoran Gallery was initially formed to house the private art collection of William Wilson Corcoran.
Retiring in 1854 after a successful life in the banking business, he started to pursue philanthropic work. He was one of the few early patrons of contemporary American art at a time when many American collectors were purchasing European works.
Having personal contacts with several artists, Corcoran collected many art works including those by Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Doughty, and George Inness, which are now hung in the gallery. His holdings soon came to include a number of American and European landscapes, as well as some sculpture.
With the increase in his collection, Corcoran began to open his home to visitors twice a week to allow them a view. This eventually led him to think about a public building for housing and displaying the collection. Thus, he commissioned James Renwick to design a gallery at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, in 1859. But with the outbreak of the Civil War, construction work was temporarily stopped, and then was seized by the federal government. After the war, the gallery was returned to its owner and was subsequently completed.
In May 1869, Corcoran deeded the building, grounds, and a private collection valued at $100,000, to the nine members of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art formally opened its doors in January 1874, with an exhibition of 98 paintings and sculptures. By the end of the year, the collection had expanded to more than 300 works. As the original Renwick’s red building was inefficient to hold the growing number of exhibits of the gallery, the trustees bought a lot a few blocks away at 17th Street and New York Avenue, to construct a new building.
Architect Ernest Flagg was commissioned to design a Beaux-Arts building to house both the museum and the Corcoran School of Art. Work started in June 1893, and the structure was completed and opened to the public in January 1897. The old building was sold to the U.S. Government in 1901, and is now part of the Smithsonian Institution.
The permanent collection of the gallery had grown to more than 700 works of art by this time and the increased space of the new building allowed the museum to pursue other activities such as special temporary exhibitions.
The popularity of such shows led to the establishment, in 1907, of the nationally recognized Biennial Exhibitions of Contemporary American Painting.
Significant additions to the gallery’s holdings came during the 1920s and 1930s, through the generosity of several major American collectors.
The Clark Wing – a new addition designed by architect Charles Platt - was completed in 1928, with funds donated by the Clark family. This wing, which houses the collection of Senator William Andrews Clark of Montana, was opened to the public in the same year.
Other collections of the gallery include French Impressionist works by Renoir, Monet, and Pissaro, as well as a fine selection of other European art.
More recent additions to the collection include the Gordon Parks Collection of Photographs, the Evans-Tibbs Collection of African American Art, and the Edelson Collection of European Avant-Garde Photography.
The gallery also encourages modern European and American artists by showing and purchasing their work.