Corcoran Gallery of Art

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Corcoran Gallery of Art
Corcoran Gallery of Art - Washington DC - DSC01051.JPG
Corcoran Gallery of Art is located in Washington, D.C.
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Location 17th St. at New York Ave., NW
Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38°53′45″N 77°02′24″W / 38.89578°N 77.039899°W / 38.89578; -77.039899Coordinates: 38°53′45″N 77°02′24″W / 38.89578°N 77.039899°W / 38.89578; -77.039899
Architect Ernest Flagg
Architectural style Beaux Arts
NRHP Reference # 71000997
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 6, 1971
Designated NHL April 27, 1992

The Corcoran Gallery of Art was one of the oldest privately supported cultural institutions in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The building and associated school are part of the George Washington University. The museum's main focus was American art. In 2014 the museum closed, leaving its 17,000 work collection to the National Gallery of Art. Prior to its dispersal, the permanent collection included works by Rembrandt Peale, Eugène Delacroix, Edgar Degas, Thomas Gainsborough, John Singer Sargent, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Gene Davis, and many others. Founded in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran, the Corcoran was the oldest and largest non-federal art museum in the District of Columbia. Its mission was "dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius."

Corcoran Gallery of Art


When the gallery was founded in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran, the co-founder of Riggs Bank, it was one of the first fine art galleries in the country.[1] Corcoran established the gallery, supported with an endowment, "for the perpetual establishment and encouragement of the Fine Arts."

The Corcoran Gallery of Art was originally located at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, in the building that now houses the Renwick Gallery. Construction of that building started before the Civil War. The building, near completion, was used by the government as a warehouse during the Civil War. It was finally completed in 1874 and the gallery opened to the public.[2]

By 1897, the Corcoran Gallery collection outgrew the space of its original building. A new building was constructed, designed by Ernest Flagg in a Beaux-Arts style. The building spans 135,000 square feet (12,500 m²). A proposed addition by Frank O. Gehry would have more than doubled the museum's size, but the plan was scrapped due to funding problems in the summer of 2005.

In its final years, the museum and its affiliated art and design college Corcoran College of Art and Design together had a staff of about 140 and an operating budget of about $24 million. Revenue came from various sources, including grants and contributions, admissions fees, tuition, membership dues, gift shop and restaurant sales, and an endowment worth around $30 million. In February 2001, two AOL executives (Robert W. Pittman and Barry Schuler) and their wives donated $30 million to the museum, its largest single donation since its founding.

Following decades of financial problems, the Corcoran Trustees chose to break the founder's deed of trust by going to court to have the Corcoran dissolved. Following a court order dissolving the city's oldest independent museum, the Trustees gave the college of art and design, the $200 million Beaux Arts building and $50 mil to George Washington University. The 17,000 piece art collection worth $2bil was given free to the National Gallery of Art.[3] The dissolution was spearheaded by Corcoran Interim Director and President, Peggy Loar.

Mapplethorpe scandal[edit]

In 1989, the Corcoran Gallery of Art had agreed to host a traveling solo exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe's works. Mapplethorpe decided to show a new series that he had explored shortly before his death, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment curated by Janet Kardon of the Institute of Contemporary Art.[4] Several Trustees of the Corcoran and U.S. Representatives Dick Armey (TX) and Jesse Helms (GA) were horrified when the works were revealed to them, and the museum director, Christina Orr-Cahall succumbed to pressure and cancelled the exhibit, which had already been announced to its members through an exhibition preview invitation.[5] The Coalition of Washington Artists organized a demonstration to protest the Corcoran Gallery's cancellation of the exhibit. An estimated 700 people attended the demonstration.[6]

In June 1989, pop artist Lowell Blair Nesbitt became involved with a scandal involving Mapplethorpe's work. It was at this time that Nesbitt, a long-time friend of Mapplethorpe, revealed that he had a $1.5 million bequest to the museum in his will. Nesbitt publicly promised that if the museum refused to host the exhibition he would revoke his bequest. The Corcoran refused and Nesbitt bequeathed the money to the Phillips Collection instead.

After the Corcoran cancelled the Mapplethorpe exhibition, the underwriters of the exhibition went to the nonprofit Washington Project for the Arts,[7] which showed the controversial images in its own space from July 21 to August 13, 1989, to large crowds.[8][9] The 1990 NEA Appropriations Bill included language against "obscene" work.[10]

As a result of the scandal, more than a dozen artists canceled exhibitions[11] while the director, Christina Orr-Cahall, resigned and moved to the Norton Museum of Art.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Art And Museums". Retrieved 19 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Reed, Robert (1980). Old Washington, D.C. in Early Photographs: 1846-1932. Dover Publications. p. 127. 
  3. ^ Montgomery, David (February 21, 2014). "Museums". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ "Imperfect Moments: Mapplethorpe and Censorship Twenty Years Later". Institute of Contemporary Art. 
  5. ^ Kastor, Elizabeth (September 19, 1989). "Corcoran Offers `Regret' on Mapplethorpe; Statement Promises Support for Art, Artists and Artistic Freedom". The Washington Post Article. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  6. ^ Gamarekian, Barbara (July 1, 1989). "Crowd at Corcoran Protests Mapplethorpe Cancellation". The New York Times. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  7. ^ Fitzpatrick, James F. "The Sensitive Society". p. FCLJ Vol 47 No 2. 
  8. ^ Tully, Judd (6 September 1989). "Corcoran Cut From Painter's Will; Lowell Nesbitt's Mapplethorpe Protest". 
  9. ^ "Robert Mapplethorpe". Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  10. ^ Quigley, Margaret. "The Mapplethorpe Censorship Controversy. Chronology of events. The 1989–1991 battles". Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  11. ^ Richard, Paul (August 30, 1989). "Artists Cancel Exhibitions At Corcoran; Mapplethorpe Case Prompts Boycott". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 
  12. ^ Twardy, Chuck (February 11, 1990). "Out Of The Frying Pan, Into West Palm". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved December 19, 2010. 

External links[edit]