Must-Sees at the National Gallery
Welcome! Visiting for the first time? Only have an hour to spend? That's enough time to connect with intimate portraits, discover "action painting," and meet a 14-foot-tall rooster.
The National Gallery is the museum of the nation—your museum! Come inside to explore and experience art, creativity, and our shared humanity.
These must-see artworks offer a glimpse of the incredible variety of artists, materials, and spaces across our campus. So grab a map and visit them in any order you choose.
West Building Must-Sees
Here you'll find works from the 11th through the early 20th century. Opened in 1941, this first National Gallery building was architect John Russell Pope's last design. The domed rotunda in its center is based on the interior of the Pantheon in Rome.
Hiram Powers, The Greek Slave
When this statue of an enslaved woman toured the United States in the late 1840s, its full nudity shocked many vieweres. The subject relates to Greece's struggle for independence in the 1820s, but the anti-slavery message made it a favorite among US abolitionists. It is one of the most famous sculptures in US history.
Ground Floor, Gallery G9
Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation
In a scene from the Bible, the angel Gabriel delivers a message from God: that Mary will bear his son, Jesus. Van Eyck included Gabriel's words (in Latin) in the painting. He shows Mary's reply too, but her words are upside down, intended to be read from above. The dove represents the Holy Spirit, and white lilies symbolize Mary's purity. In the floor tiles, scenes from the Hebrew bible foreshadow Jesus's life.
Main Floor, Gallery 39
Leonardo da Vinci, Ginevra de' Benci
This is the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the Americas, one of the only three of his surviving portraits of women. Likely painted at the time of her engagement at 16, it depicts an intelligent and confident Ginevra de' Benci. Wealthy women were often isolated at home, but she is outside, surrounded by juniper leaves—a play on her name in Italian. On the back of the painting the artist included a laurel branch, a symbolic reference to the young woman being a poet.
Main Floor, Gallery 39
Archibald John Motley Jr., Portrait of My Grandmother
This intimate portrait of Emily Sims Motley, the artist's 80-year-old grandmother, captures her powerful presence. Born enslaved in Louisiana, she lived through the Civil War and eventually settled in Chicago. The different textures in her blouse, its sheer sleeves and detailed buttons, show the artist's skill with color. Motley depicts Emily's creased face and age-worn hands with compassion and honesty, suggesting his deep love for her.
Main Floor, Gallery 66
Mary Cassatt, Children Playing on the Beach
Women and children were often the focus of Mary Cassatt's art. Here, two little girls—perhaps sisters or cousins—dig in the sand, side by side. Cassatt had been very close with her sister Lydia, who died two years before the artist made this painting.
Temporarily not on view due to renovations
East Building Must-Sees
Discover our collection of modern and contemporary art. Opened in 1978, the light-filled building is widely considered I. M. Pei's most ambitious design. Look for the many triangles in its architecture.
Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques
As a young artist, Piccaso searched for recognition and belonging. He captured his sense of unease in this painting of wandering performers (saltimbanques). Picasso identified with these lonely-looking entertainers and included himself among the group, in the diamond-printed costume.
Mezzanine, Gallery 217C
Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist)
Pollock laid this large canvas on the floor of his studio barn in Long Island, and walked around it dripping, pouring, and flinging paint from brushes and sticks. This practice, which we now know as "action painting," was his way of being in his work, actively becoming part of the creative process. Look for Pollock's "signature" at the top of the canvas—his handprints.
Upper Level, Gallery 407B
Georgia O'Keeffe, Shell No. 1
O'Keeffe is famous for her paintings of nature: plants, flowers, bones, and the New Mexico desert. Picking up seashells along the beach was one of her favorite activities. She displayed her collection at her home in New Mexico and often drew and painted her favorite shells.
Upper Level, Gallery 415B
Alma Thomas, Pansies in Washington
In this painting, Alma Thomas imagines how a field of pansies might look from the window of an airplane. Thomas loved nature and often found inspiration for her colorful, patterned paintings in her own garden. Thomas shared her love of art with many students: she was an art teacher in Washington, DC, public schools for over 35 years.
Upper Level, Gallery 407C
Katharina Fritsch, Hahn / Cock
This bright blue, 14-foot rooster captures attention from any angle. Its title—hahn—is German for rooster or cock, and the artist considers it a playful poke at male vanity. From its perch on the roof of the museum, the sculpture overlooks a city full of monuments and memorials dedicated to famous men.
Sculpture Garden Must-Sees
Wander through this 6.1-acre oasis in the heart of the city. It's a peaceful setting for large-scale works of modern sculpture.
Louise Bourgeois, Spider
The spider reminded Bourgeois of her mother, who died when the artist was a young woman. She had been a weaver and restorer of tapestries. While spiders frighten or disgust many people, Bourgeois saw them as clever and protective.
Robert Indiana, AMOR
Amor—love in Spanish and Italian— was a continuing theme for painter and sculptor Robert Indiana. His distinctive "LOVE" sculptures, with their slanted Os, have appeared in public spaces around the world. In 1973, the design was featured on a US postage stamp. It became associated with the Vietnam War-era peace movement.