The Corcoran Gallery of Art was the first institution in the United States created specifically as an art museum.
Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1869, the Corcoran remained a vital part of our city for nearly 150 years. After the museum closed in 2014, the National Gallery of Art took responsibility for the collection, ultimately acquiring over 9,000 of its objects. Ranging from antiquities to contemporary works, the broad range of European and American paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, drawings, and photographs in the Corcoran Collection has immeasurably enriched the National Gallery’s holdings.
The Corcoran’s founder, William Wilson Corcoran (1798 – 1888), was a Washington, D.C., banker and philanthropist and one of the country’s first collectors of American art. He was passionate about sharing his collection. In the mid-1850s, he opened the picture gallery in his home for public viewing several times a week. He soon built his namesake museum with the mission of “encouraging American genius.”
Originally across the street from the White House, the Corcoran later moved nearby to make room for the growing collection and newly founded art school (now part of George Washington University). The Corcoran Gallery of Art created a model for local and national support of the arts. It was the first arts institution given to the American people by an individual, and Corcoran thought of it as a national gallery.