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About the Library

West Building Library, c. 1950

West Building Library, c. 1950

The National Gallery of Art Library was founded in 1941, the year the Gallery opened to the public. Beginning with a small collection of books, the library undertook to support the curatorial and research needs of the Gallery’s staff and occasional visiting scholars. Since that time, it has grown steadily, augmented by generous gifts from a number of the Gallery’s principal benefactors: Andrew W. Mellon, Samuel H. Kress, Joseph E. Widener, Chester Dale, David K. E. Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, and Paul Mellon.

In 1979, with the move to a seven-story facility in the Gallery’s new East Building and the establishment of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), the library broadened its purpose and the scope of its collection. Its goal has been to become a major national art research center, serving the Gallery’s curatorial, educational, and conservation staff, CASVA members, interns, visiting scholars, and researchers in the Washington art community.

Library Collections

The library contains a wide-ranging collection of more than 400,000 books and periodicals on the history, theory, and criticism of art and architecture. The emphasis is on Western art from the Middle Ages to the present—particularly Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish schools—and American art from the colonial era to the present.

The collection includes a broad selection of monographs on individual artists; international exhibition, museum, and private collection catalogues; and European and American auction catalogues from the seventeenth century to the present. The rare book room contains early source materials on the history of art and architecture as well as books with original prints and drawings, fine illustrations, and special bindings. An extensive collection of material about Leonardo da Vinci and his time provides a special resource, and acquisition of the personal libraries of noted scholars such as Lessing Rosenwald, Rudolf Wittkower, Wolfgang Stechow, Carl Nordenfalk, Ladislao Reti, Wolfgang Lotz, Julius Held, Harold Wethey, and John Rewald has added to the richness of the Gallery’s library resources.

More recently, generous donations of private collections and rare books have greatly enhanced the library’s standing as a research facility. The support of Grega and Leo A. Daly has strengthened the holdings of rare titles in European and early American architecture; Patricia England’s gift formed the basis for the artists' books component of the collection; and Thomas Klarner’s enthusiasm for Dada and contemporary art movements has resulted in gifts of several unique titles for the rare book room.

Library Access

The library and image collections are available to staff and interns of the National Gallery, members of CASVA, and the scholarly community at large.

The library is located in the East Building of the National Gallery, at Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Briefcases, coats, bags, and all books must be left in the Gallery checkroom at the Fourth Street entrance. Across the ground-floor atrium, a glass door marked “Administrative and Study Center” leads to the library. Mobile phones should be turned off before entering. The officer at the study center desk will notify the librarian upon your arrival. The library and image collections are available on Monday from noon to 4:30 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and are closed on Saturday, Sunday, and all federal holidays.

Online Catalogue

Mercury, the library’s online catalogue, is available to users through any of the workstations located in the reading and reference rooms as well as through a link on the Gallery’s public website. The stacks are closed; book requests are handled through Mercury, and books are retrieved by the circulation staff. See the reference librarian for specific questions.