Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection

Horatio Greenough; George Washington, 1840; Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has a permanent collection of over 40,000 works of art, spanning over 300 years of American art history. The museum is dedicated to the art and artists of the United States, encompassing all regions, cultures, and traditions. More than 7,000 American artists are represented in the collection, including John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Martin Puryear, etc. The museum's holdings include Colonial portraiture, 19th century landscape, American impressionism, 20th century realism and abstraction, New Deal projects, African American art, Latino art, and folk art. Selections from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's collections are represented in Artstor with over 4,000 images in all media.  

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is the first federal art collection. The museum began in 1829 with gifts from private collections and art organizations, even before the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. A private citizen, John Varden, set out to create a national museum based his own private collection of art. By 1836, Varden opened a public gallery called the Washington Museum, later forming the “National Institute” in 1841 to exhibit his collection in the Patent Office building. The foundation of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 led to the disbanding of Varden's institute, and the works in the collection were dispersed to various Smithsonian buildings. Eventually, the museum's American art-focused collection would return to its former home in the Patent Office building, which was rescued from demolition by an act of Congress in 1958. The museum opened to the public in the refurbished building in 1968. In 1972, the Renwick Gallery was opened as a branch museum focusing on American crafts. As part of an initiative to standardize names within the Smithsonian Institution, the museum's name was changed to the National Museum of American Art. This name was later amended to the current Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2000. The museum was recently reopened in 2006 after extensive renovation, modernization and restoration of the original building, which also houses the National Portrait Gallery.