National Gallery of Art East Wing

Edward Hopper, “Cape Cod Evening,” 1939, oil on canvas

Art museums are different things to different people: must-see obligations for some, art education for others, places of reverie and contemplation for others. For me, the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art is a place to visit some old friends — the first modern art works that I first fell in love with.

The National Gallery of Art’s two buildings on the National Mall provide a quieter place, where fewer of the tourist crowds go, so if you’re looking for some cool quiet after the frenetic crowds at the Smithsonian’s popular Air and Space museum or the Museum of Natural History, then spend a few hours at the National Gallery of Art.

Elie Nadalman, “Horse,” 1914, bronze

Open to the public and free of charge, the National Gallery of Art was privately established in 1937 for the American people by a joint resolution of the United States Congress. Andrew W. Mellon donated a substantial art collection and funds for construction and the core collection comes from a who’s who of the rich and even richer of the 20th century: Paul Mellon, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Samuel Henry Kress, Rush Harrison Kress, Peter Arrell Browne Widener, Joseph E. Widener, and Chester Dale all donated major works of art to the museum.

Pablo Picasso, “Lady with a Fan,” 1905, oil on canvas

In the West Building, you’ll find paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, medals, and decorative arts tracing the development of Western Art from the Middle Ages to the present, including the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas.

Katherine Fritsch, “Hahn/Cock,” 2013, glass fiber
reinforced polyester resin filling on stainless steel supporting structure

It was the East Wing — the one housing a giant Alexander Calder mobile — that I was headed to. This is my favorite art museum, possibly because it was where I discovered modern art and my love of it. The East Building focuses on modern and contemporary art, with a collection including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Calder, a 1977 mural by Robert Motherwell and works by many other artists.

Paul Klee, “New House in the Suburbs,” 1924, gouache on canvas

The Gallery of Art’s East Building was constructed in the 1970s adjacent to the original National Gallery of Art building, which was built earlier in the century; Andrew Mellon’s children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce, perpetuated their family’s support by funding the new art building.

Roy Lichtenstein, “Painting with Statue of Liberty,” 1983, oil and Magna on canvas

Designed by architect I. M. Pei, the contemporary structure was completed in 1978. The new building was built to house the Museum’s collection of modern paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints, as well as study and research centers and offices. The building’s central feature is a high atrium designed as an open interior court that is enclosed by a sculptural space spanning 16,000 square feet. Walking through it feels light and mysterious at the same time, as you look at walkways spanning open spaces and wonder how to get there — the galleries are primarily housed in the towers, layered over each other. Over you gently sways a giant Alexander Calder mobile, inviting you to explore the museum’s hidden galleries.

Jean DuBuffet, “Site a l’homme assis,” 1969-1984, polyester resin

Getting there: The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall, between 3rd and 9th Streets, at Constitution Avenue NW. Parking is scarce in the area; taking Metro is recommended. The Gallery of Art is located near several Metrorail stops, the closest at Archives–Navy Memorial–Penn Quarter on the Green and Yellow lines.

Hours: Entry to both buildings of the National Gallery of Art is free of charge. From Monday through Saturday, the museum is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; it is open from 11 – 6 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on December 25 and January 1.


Mark Rothko, “No, 8,” 1949, oil and mixed media on canvas

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