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Mathew Brady (1822 – 1896), Mr. William Wilson Corcoran (detail), 1883, collodion print, Library of Congress, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection LC-BH821-1100

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.

Moses P. Rice (1839 – 1925), William Wilson Corcoran reading in the library of his home on the northeast corner of H Street and Connecticut Avenue, N.W., c. 1886, Corcoran Gallery of Art Archives, George Washington University

First Corcoran Gallery of Art building, at the corner
of 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. (now the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
, undated photograph, Corcoran Gallery of Art Archives, George Washington University

Corcoran Gallery of Art, final building, east facade, c. 1897. Photograph, Library of Congress, negative number USZ62-87608

Highlights from the Corcoran Collection

See works on view



See more of the Corcoran Collection in other D.C.-area museums and galleries.

While the National Gallery acquired approximately half of the Corcoran Collection, most of the balance of the objects were distributed to other museums in the Washington, D.C., area. Download a full list here.