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About the Library

West Building Library, c. 1950

West Building Library, c. 1950

The library was founded in 1941, the year the National Gallery of Art opened to the public. Beginning with a small collection of books, the library undertook to support the curatorial and research needs of the institution'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, Ailsa Bruce Mellon, Lessing J. Rosenwald, and Paul Mellon.

In 1979, with the move to a seven-story facility in the new East Building and the establishment of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the library broadened its purpose and the scope of its collection. It strives to serve as a national art research center, serving the National Gallery’s staff, Center members, interns, visiting scholars, the Washington art community, and researchers worldwide.

Library Collections

The library contains a collection of more than 500,000 books and periodicals on the history, theory, and criticism of art and architecture. The emphasis is on the visual arts of Europe since the Middle Ages—particularly Dutch, English, Flemish, French, German, Italian, and Spanish—and art of the United States since the Colonial era.

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 eighteenth 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, John Rewald, William and Abigail Gerdts, and Ilene Forsyth, has added to the richness of the library's resources.

More recently, generous donations of private collections and rare books have 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 the Center, 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 through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and are closed on Saturday, Sunday, and all federal holidays.

Online Catalog

The library’s online catalog is available to users through any of the workstations located in the reading and reference rooms, and researchers can access the catalog remotely by visiting The stacks are closed; book requests are placed through the online catalog, and books are retrieved by the circulation staff. Contact the reference librarian for specific questions.

Library Hours
Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed Saturday, Sunday, and federal holidays.

Reference Desk
Phone: (202) 842-6511