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The National Gallery of Art opened to the public in March 1941 on the eve of World War II. Thinking of the battles already being fought in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his dedication speech: "To accept this work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America--that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world's great art . . . shall not be utterly destroyed."
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Throughout the war the National Gallery of Art was inspired by the conviction that the great art within its walls represented the highest values for which the nation was fighting. Approximately one quarter of the museum's employees joined the armed forces; in their absence, the remaining staff set about protecting the Gallery's artworks and supporting the war effort on the home front.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt speaking at the dedication of the <br>
National Gallery of Art, March 17, 1941
"No war here, for art outlives wars."
Seymour Bazell, Somerset, Massachusetts, August 12, 1945
For safety, in January 1942, sixty-two paintings and seventeen sculptures were sent to off-site storage in Biltmore House on the Vanderbilt family estate near Asheville, North Carolina. The works of art remained there until 1944, when they were returned to the museum in Washington. Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina
National Gallery of Art paintings being moved for safe storage at Biltmore House
"A tribute to the inherent love of the beautiful and the good in man...."
M. Avignon Jr., United States Merchant Marine, San Francisco, California, February 7, 1945
Except for the small group of evacuated artworks, the museum's collection was on view throughout the conflict, augmented by paintings and drawings from French and Belgian collections that had been traveling in the Americas when war broke out. After the war, all of the safeguarded works were returned to their owners. Popular temporary exhibitions of war posters and military scenes were presented in galleries on the ground floor.
Exhibitions at the Gallery in the 1940s
Artwork on view
Posters from the National War Poster Competition on view in the Central Gallery,<br> National Gallery of Art, January 1943
"First time I've been able to relax and enjoy beauty in months."
Private Matthew C. Ek, Salt Lake City, Utah, February 24, 1945
During the war years the museum opened its doors to thousands of young men and women in the armed forces. The Founders' Room, in the West Building, was transformed into a special lounge for their use. To entertain them and to help build and maintain civilian morale, the museum offered a series of free classical concerts. Visiting service personnel were encouraged to sign a guest book. Their words evoke the special meaning of art at a time of war and national crisis. Servicemen entering the National Gallery during the war years
Servicemen in the Founders' Room of the National Gallery
Concert in the East Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art, December 26, 1942
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