National Gallery of Art is housed in two buildings along Constitution Ave. between 3rd and 7th sts. N.W. The West Building, designed by John Russell Pope, is topped by a dome, a feature Pope also utilized for the Jefferson Memorial. I.M. Pei lent his unmistakable ultramodern stamp to the East Building. The boldly angular twin triangles incorporate some knife edges, most notably the southwestern corner, which you can reach out and touch. The two buildings are linked by an above-ground plaza and an underground concourse.
The West Building contains American art as well as collections of western European paintings and sculpture spanning the 13th century to the present. You'll see major works by such masters as Titian, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Among the famous paintings in the collection are “Woman Holding a Balance” by Johannes Vermeer; “Self-Portrait” by Vincent van Gogh; “A Girl With a Watering Can” by Auguste Renoir; and “The Voyage of Life: Childhood” by Thomas Cole, the first of a four-part allegorical series of idealized landscape paintings.
The East Building focuses on modern and contemporary art by European and American artists, including Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. It also has a striking, newer addition, the result of a major building renovation—a sky-lit fourth level that has gallery exhibition space linked to an outdoor sculpture terrace overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.
An outdoor sculpture garden adjacent to the West Building features works by such artists as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Tony Smith. Free jazz concerts are offered in summer; an ice-skating rink sets up in winter. The centerpiece is a circular fountain with whooshing jets of water; the benches encircling it are popular spots to sit and relax on hot summer afternoons. Several self-guiding audio tours are available.
Note: Large items must be checked before entering the galleries; all items are subject to inspection.
Guided tours are available. Food is available.
Hours: Galleries open Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 11-6. Sculpture garden open Mon.-Sat. 10-6 (also Fri. 6-8:30 p.m.), Sun. 11-6, Memorial Day-Labor Day; Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 11-6, rest of year. East Building library open by appointment. West Building and East Building guided overview tours are given daily. Lectures, themed guided tours and a variety of gallery talks are offered as well; check the website or phone for details. Concerts generally take place on Sundays from fall through spring. Tours, event times and locations are subject to change. Closed Jan. 1 and Christmas. Allow 2 hours minimum.