Smithsonian American Art Museum

formerly named

National Museum of American Art

Washington, D.C.




The Grand Salon of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery Reopens


The Grand Salon of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery reopens to the public on June 3, 2000 after a six-month period of refurbishment. Custom-made draperies, a state-of-the art lighting system and gilding of frieze elements are among the components that re-create the elegant setting of a 19th-century collector's picture gallery.

Among the 170 paintings and sculpture on view from the American Art Museum (now closed for renovation) are a suite of three stunning views of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran, two on long-term loan from the U. S. Department of the Interior. The artist's Western landscapes inspired Congress to establish the National Park Service and set aside Yellowstone as the country's first national park in 1872.

"We are proud to show many of our finest treasures and these major Moran masterworks from the Department of the Interior at the Renwick Gallery while our main building is under renovation," said Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The Renwick Gallery was built in 1859 to house the American and European art collection of Washington banker and philanthropist William Wilson Corcoran (1798-1888). The building was renovated and, in 1972, became the home of the American Art Museum's contemporary craft program. It was renamed the Renwick Gallery in honor of its architect, James Renwick Jr., who also designed the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.


Installation of Paintings, Sculptures and Furnishings

The striking new selection of paintings are hung salon-style, one-atop-another and side-by-side. The monumental Moran landscapes --"The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone," "The Chasm of the Colorado" and another view also titled "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone"-- are centered on the north and south walls. Other artists represented include George Catlin, George Inness, Edmonia Lewis, Rembrandt Peale, Hiram Powers, Abbott Handerson Thayer and John Henry Twachtman.

The nearby Octagon Room showcases several works by Winslow Homer, such as "Man with Scythe," Albert Pinkham Ryder's "Moonlight" and Thomas Wilmer Dewing's "The Spinet," also hung salon-style.

In the adjoining hallway, Robert Henri's "Portrait of Dorothy Wagstaff," William Morris Hunt's "Portrait of Agnes Elizabeth Claflin" and William Robinson Leigh's "Sophie Hunter Colson" are among the portraits on view.

Furniture and decorative art in the Grand Salon include two circular poufs, each surrounding a Centennial urn, designed by the French printmaker and designer Felix Bracquemond. Made in 1875 by Haviland and Co., they were a gift from the French government to the United States and first shown at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Bronze torchères, made in France in the mid-1860s, mark the entrance to the Grand Salon.


Renwick History

In 1859, William Wilson Corcoran began the Second Empire-style building, the first in Washington dedicated to the display of art. The 4,300-square-foot, second-floor Grand Salon with a soaring 40-foot ceiling served not only as the "hall of paintings" as it was often called, but also as a site for special events. Corcoran's lavish ball held on Feb. 29, 1871 to inaugurate his gallery included a special balcony for musicians, accompanied by live canaries suspended in cages from the ceilings.

By 1897, Corcoran's collection had outgrown the building. The trustees of the gallery purchased land at 17th Street and New York Avenue and hired Ernest Flagg of New York to design a new, larger building--the present day Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The U.S. Court of Claims took over the original Corcoran Gallery building in 1899. In need of larger space by the 1950s, the Court of Claims proposed that the historic building be torn down. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy led the effort to save this architectural and historical gem, and in 1965, S. Dillon Ripley, then secretary of the Smithsonian, met with President Lyndon Johnson to request that the gallery be turned over to the Smithsonian. The Renwick was subsequently dedicated "for use as a gallery of art, crafts and design."

Washington architect Hugh Newell Jacobson was hired to lead the renovation. The extraordinary Grand Salon--which had been converted into office space for Court of Claims judges--was restored to its original glory.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700 (voice); (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish).


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For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 2/28/11

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