William Wilson Corcoran believed in American artists at a time when most collectors bought only European paintings. The financier-turned-philanthropist made friends with masters such as Thomas Doughty and George Inness, bought what interested him, and even opened up his home twice a week so the public could view his collection. And that practice was the seed which grew into the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The formal location opened in 1874 with 98 paintings and sculptures from Corcoran's personal collection. Today, that collection exceeds 16,000.
The focus on 18th- to 20th-century American artists such as Mary Cassatt and Andy Warhol remains—but that doesn't mean the gallery has blinders on. It also holds works by European luminaries such as Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas. The collection even extends into decorative art such as the Salon Doré, an 18th-century French period room once housed in Paris's Hôtel de Clermont.
In the same way the Corcoran Gallery extends beyond American art, it pushes its purpose beyond simply displaying masterpieces. Year-round events include lectures from prominent critics as well as live performances and wine mixers. The Corcoran even nurtures the next generation of talent with after-school and weekend classes that teach students how to draw everything from landscapes to landscapes covered with bowls of fruit.
The Phillips Collection emerged from one man's passion for art. Duncan Phillips filled his 19th-century Georgian Revival house with artwork, and he invited others to come and look at his collection. In 1921, the home formally became a museum of modern art. Impressionist and modern works fill its walls, and the collection continues to grow to accommodate contemporary artists.
The story of the descendants of the nation’s First Family is told at Tudor Place, an historic home hidden away on a Georgetown side street. The five-acre estate was the home of Martha and George Washington’s granddaughter Martha Parke Custis Peter. Five more generations of the family lived here before it became a National Historic Landmark in the 1980s, and now the notable home contains more of George and Martha’s memorabilia than anywhere outside of Mount Vernon. But because the home was occupied by members of the Washington family for nearly 200 years, its riches span the centuries, from original keepsakes handed down by Martha herself to more current pieces that tell the family’s rich history. The extensive gardens are particularly lovely in the spring, when many of the period flowers bloom.
When British scientist and visionary James Smithson left his estate to the United States, he hoped that it would one day become ?an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.? Smithson got his wish, and then some. His generous gift transformed into The Smithsonian Institution, the world?s largest museum and research complex.
Since its founding in 1846, The Smithsonian has blossomed into exactly what Smithson envisioned: a place where knowledge is celebrated, advanced, and shared with new generations. Anchored on the National Mall, the Institution?s many branches explore the worlds of art, science, history, and culture, inviting guests to discover their origins and see what the future might have in store.
Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. escorts guests on an interactive journey through American history. Only here, the past isn't manifested through movies, but through wax. Inside, The President's Gallery brings visitors face-to-face with all 44 US presidents, from Harry Truman to Abe Lincoln and his signature spinning bowtie. Cultural leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., stand tall nearby, and rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan compose silent jam sessions in the Music Room. Hollywood stars, sports heroes, and nonpresidential political figures round out the collection, which can be visited 365 days a year.
The National Museum of Crime and Punishment shines a light on the dark underbelly of society with more than 100 interactive events spread across three stories and 25,000 square feet of gallery space. After resting their weary bones in an unplugged electric chair, fans of CSI can live out television fantasies at the Crime Scene Investigation exhibit, where they can learn what it takes to be a forensic scientist and watch professionals in action before trying to determine whether fellow museum-goers exhibit the traits of serial killers. The exhibit also serves as a crash course in fingerprinting, DNA testing, fraudulent-check investigation, and dental-impression and ballistics analysis. The museum’s many permanent exhibits include A Notorious History of American Crime, about the country's felonious forefathers, and an exploration into one of the most heinous masterminds of modern times in Ted Kaczynski: The Unabomber.