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The Richter Archive at 75

The George M. Richter Archive of Illustrations on Art arrived at the National Gallery of Art on August 1, 1943, as the founding collection for the present day department of image collections. In the ensuing 75 years, the growth of the holdings from the original 60,000 photographs to almost 16 million photographs, negatives, prints, microform images, and digital files has made the National Gallery of Art Library an important destination for scholars performing picture research.

George Martin Richter (1875–1942) was an art historian who was born in San Francisco but spent most of his life studying and writing about art in Europe. He returned to the United States at the outbreak of the Second World War, bringing his photograph library with him. After his death, funds to purchase the archive were donated to the Gallery by Solomon R. Guggenheim. The Richter Archive continued to grow until 1970, when it was incorporated into the photographic archives established by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation as part of the expanded research resources planned for the Study Center in the East Building.

This feature traces the history and development of the Gallery’s image collections, beginning with Richter’s archive and continuing through subsequent additions that document art and architecture. An expanded history of the department can be found at www.nga.gov/research/library/imagecollections/history.html. Unless otherwise noted, all material is drawn from the holdings of the department of image collections.