Corcoran Gallery

Washington DC, USA

Closed 2014

The Disappointed Tourist: Corcoran Gallery, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art was one of the first private museums in the United States, established in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran to display his collection. From 1880 onwards, it also included the Corcoran College of Art and Design. Originally housed in what is now the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Gallery, the collection moved to a new Beaux-Arts building designed by Ernest Flagg in 1897. A new wing was added in 1928 to house the art collection of former Senator William A. Clark. In 1989, the Gallery controversially cancelled its exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photographs after several of the gallery’s trustee objected to the subject matter, resulting in the resignation of the Gallery’s director, the loss of Lowell Blair Nesbit’s bequest and the cancellation of several exhibitions. The Gallery suffered from increasing financial problems and in 2014, the trustees broke the trust and obtained a court order, closing the Gallery and transferring the College of Art to George Washington University. The National Gallery of Art had first choice of the collection and the remainder was donated to other institutions, primarily in the DC area, with the majority of works going to the Katzen Arts Center at the American University Museum. The building still stands but the collection and interior is no longer there. This painting is based on a photograph by Lee Sanstead from 2012.

The Corcoran had such a quirky history — a place for American classics and local artists and the avant-garde. In a city full of big institutional museums, it felt refreshingly shaggy. Anon.