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Historical collections open for study in the National Gallery of Art Archives form a rich body of information about the museum’s past and the history and culture of the United States. Materials in the archives are in many documentary forms, including files, photographs, architectural drawings, oral history transcripts and recordings, and audio and video media.

National Gallery of Art Records

The archives holds records and documents that the museum created or received in the course of its programs, acquisitions, and activities, including:

  • Subject-classified Central Files, 1939–c. 1970
  • Press releases, 1939–present
  • Calendars of events, annual reports, concert programs, and other National Gallery publications
  • Architectural design drawings and models for the West Building, East Building, and Sculpture Garden
  • Photographs of National Gallery events, architecture, and personalities
  • Records concerning museum activities during World War II and the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (the Roberts Commission)
  • Records of exhibitions held at the National Gallery, 1941–present

Special Collections

The archives acquires or receives materials from other sources that relate closely to the mission, programs, and interests of the museum, including:

  • Papers of art historian John Rewald
  • World War II files of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives officers Edward Adams, S. Lane Faison Jr., Walter I. Farmer, Frederick Hartt, E. Parker Lesley Jr., Charles Parkhurst, Craig Hugh Smyth, Edith A. Standen, and James J. Rorimer
  • Scrapbooks and related papers of donor Chester Dale and his wife Maud
  • Artist postcards and other materials associated with the collection of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. Select digitized postcards may be found, in association with artist biographies, at the Vogel 50x50 website
  • Papers of directors, curators, and others relating to the National Gallery of Art

Index of American Design

The Index of American Design is a collection of approximately 18,000 watercolor renderings, now in the department of Modern Prints and Drawings, of the crafts and folk arts of the United States. Related records in the archives reflect the activity and interest in the Index between its beginning as a federal arts program in 1935 and termination in 1942, to its subsequent deposit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1942 and 1943, and to its final transfer to the National Gallery of Art in 1944. These records consist of files, research note cards, an extensive collection of prints and negatives, color notes, pencil drawings, and ink sketches.

Oral Histories

The National Gallery of Art established its oral history program in 1987 under the direction of the archives in preperation for its 50th anniversary celebration and at a time of workplace generational change. Since then, interviews have been conducted with trustees and donors, former exectutive officers, retired curatorial and administrative staff, architects and others associated with design and construction of the West and East Buildings, and close observers of the National Gallery over time. Interviews range from in-depth life histories recorded in several sessions to shorter conversations relating to a significiant aspect of an individual's career or a single phase of the history of the institution. 

Other Resources

Subject reference files, chronologies, and related factual information about the National Gallery of Art and the development of its collections also are available in the archives.