National Gallery of Art History

The start of the National Gallery of Art was when financier Andrew W. Mellon started creating private collection of old master paintings and sculptures during World War I. While he did not tell anyone at that time, in the 1920s he changed his motives and started collecting newer paintings and sculptors with an establishment in mind.

This intent and motivation became apparent when he formed the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust that became the legal owner of the collection that he had put together. This occurred in 1930. The trust continued the collecting efforts of A.W. Mellon and they made their first acquisition in 1930-31 when they acquired 21 paintings from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Raphael's Alba Madonna and Jan van Eyck's The Annunciation were part of this collection.

Later when Mellon wanted to endow a new building to house the collection, his trial for tax evasion based on the Trust and the Hermitage paintings led to a change in plans and delay for some time. Later in 1935, Mellon announced that he wanted to create different buildings for old masters work and the Smithsonian pieces of art. The whole project depended on the "attitude of the government with regards to the gift".

The building for the National Gallery of Art was designed by John Russell Pope. It was a pity that neither A.W. Mellon nor John Russell Pope actually lived to see the building completed. They died a couple of months after the excavation for the building was started.

As the National Gallery was created, it attracted donations of paintings, collections and more from various other private donors. The East building for the National Gallery of Art was constructed in 1970 and lastly the National Gallery of Art Sculptor Garden was created and opened to the public in 1999.


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