Concerts at the National Gallery are open to the public, free of charge. Audience is admitted on a first-come, first-served basis 30 minutes before the concert begins. For further information, call (202) 842-6941.
Concerts at the National Gallery of Art began during World War II, when the first director, David E. Finley, kept the Gallery open on Sunday nights to accommodate the armed forces personnel who were in Washington at the time. The first concert took place in the East Garden Court on May 31, 1942. Finley’s idea for adding music to the museum’s service to the public was inspired by renowned pianist Myra Hess’s recitals for troops and the public at London’s National Gallery during the Blitz, 1940–1941.
The National Gallery of Art concert series has provided a rich and distinguished service to music not only in Washington but also on the national and international levels. Many musicians who appeared at the Gallery early in their careers have gone on to worldwide fame, including pianists Claudio Arrau, Eugene Istomin, Earl Wild, Philippe Entremont, Jean Casadesus, and Menachem Pressler; singers Axel Schiotz and Martina Arroyo; and the Tokyo and Juilliard String Quartets. The concerts were broadcast live from 1950 to 1992 and continue to be broadcast frequently on National Public Radio.
Founding benefactor Chester Dale supported the first series of free wartime concerts at the Gallery in the summer of 1942. Since then seasonal concert series, usually offered Sunday from fall through spring, have been supported by gifts from such donors as A. W. Mellon, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, William Nelson Cromwell, and F. Lammot Belin. The Gallery has presented more than 3,000 free concerts since the music program began.
For the convenience of concertgoers, the Garden Café remains open for light refreshments until 6:00 on Sundays.