Wednesday, August 27, 2008


I forgot to write down the name of this piece or its artist,
but I thought it was rather stunning in size.

The Renwick Gallery of Art at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection. Built in 1859, it housed the collection of William Wilson Corcoran, a banker and philanthropist. Designed by architect James Renwick, who also designed the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, it is built in the French Second Empire style and features a soaring salon and intricate Victorian fixtures. When it opened in 1861, it was the city's first art museum. Shortly after its opening, though, it was occupied by the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army as a storage place for records and uniforms during the Civil War.

L: Bureau of Bureaucracy : Kim Schmahmann
R: Shaker Television : Edward Zucca

In 1869, the building returned to Corcoran's care and he threw lavish parties and fundraisers. Extensive renovations were completed in 1873 and the building reopened as an art museum. By 1897, Corcoran's collection had outgrown the space and a new museum was built at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW--virtually kaddy-corner from the original space.

Ghost Clock : Wendell Castle : Tromp l'oeil in wood

The U.S. Court of Claims took over the space and eventually was going to tear it down, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy stepped in and led the effort to save not only this building, but to preserve the adjacent square known as Lafayette Park. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson turned the building over to the Smithsonian Institution and it became a museum for "the arts, crafts, and design." The building was renamed the Renwick Gallery to honor its architect and it reopened to the public as a museum in 1972.

The Grand Salon in the Renwick Gallery of Art

If you're in Washington and you venture far enough to see the White House--which every tourist does--stop in and visit this gallery, as well as the Corcoran Gallery. Both provide a nice respite from the hubbub of the Mall and the White House and they contain marvelous pieces of art from all over the country and around the world. Of particular note, the Renwick houses three large, beautiful paintings in the Grand Salon by the 19th century landscape artist Thomas Moran.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential


Bernie said...

I visited the Renwick for the first time this year; I think it rivals the other Smithsonian museums.

My DC moment that Saturday: sitting on a bench in front of the Renwick, sipping on Starbucks coffee while looking at the West Wing across the street ... a stretch of Pennsylvania Ave. that was still open to vehicles till the 1990s.

Dusty Lens said...

Thanks for this heads up. I enjoy trips to museums like this. A pleasure to see these artifacts, and realize the craftsmanship and skills necessary to create them. That and the history.

Virginia said...

I have been to one, but can't remember which. Thanks for the quick tour. They are so much nicer about photography in DC. If I'm not mistaken you can even use a flash at the NGA as long as it's not a traveling exhibit. I especially like photo #1. An urn of some sort? Lovely.

Wayne said...

The Shaker TV is cute but the bureau is magnificent. One of these days I'll have to try to get there. Thanks for the tour.

D.C. Confidential said...

Bernie: This was my first visit, too. As for Pennsylvania Avenue, I can't decide if I like it better as a pedestrian avenue or as a thoroughfare. Then again, it is kind of fun to frolic in the street without worrying about being hit by a car. Now, all you have to worry about is being shot by a sniper! Some trade off, eh?

Rob: It's not a huge museum, which is good, but the collection is unique and interesting so there's reason stay for a bit.

VJ: My guess is, you've been to the one that shares real estate with the National Portrait Gallery over on 9th Street. That's the one most folks have been to, I think. It is nice to be able to photograph the majority of the art in the museums in D.C. without hindrance.

Wayne: These cabinets are magnificent. I saw a picture of one in Fine Woodworking magazine last month that was breathtaking! If I ever win the lottery, I'm having one made.

American Fork said...

Love these photos, looks like an amazing place to visit!

Maya said...

Some of these could fit the Photo Friday challenge: Old Fashioned. I'm having a hard time with that one. I have a feeling you have tons of photos that would work. :-)