Every work of art in the collections of the National Gallery of Art has been privately donated or purchased with privately donated funds. To encourage others to give, Andrew Mellon insisted that the museum he founded should not bear his name but should be called the National Gallery of Art.
By the time the museum opened to the public in March 1941, Mellon’s gift already had been joined by the great Samuel H. Kress Collection of early Italian paintings. Chester Dale loaned paintings for the opening, and Joseph Widener had promised the Widener Collection of more than 600 works. In 1943 Lessing Rosenwald gave the museum some 8,000 prints and drawings.
By the time of the museum’s 25th anniversary in 1966, 114 exhibition galleries were filled with great works of art. Each year private donors give additional works to the museum, ensuring that the collections of the National Gallery of Art continue to grow.