The two buildings of the National Gallery hold one of the world's foremost collections of paintings, sculptures, and graphics, from the 13th to the 21st centuries. You could easily spend an entire day exploring the West Building's magnificent collection. Opened in 1941, the domed museum was a gift to the nation from industrialist and treasury secretary Andrew Mellon. The rotunda, with 24 marble columns surrounding a fountain topped with a statue of Mercury, sets the stage for the masterpieces on display in more than 100 galleries.
The only painting by Leonardo da Vinci on display in the Americas, Ginevra de' Benci is the centerpiece of the collection's comprehensive survey of Italian Renaissance paintings and sculpture; it also includes Raphael's Alba Madonna and Sandro Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi.
The masters of painting light, Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer, anchor the magnificent collection of Dutch and Flemish works.
French Galleries house gorgeous French Impressionist masterworks by such superstars as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas. The gallery is organized into groupings that showcase the bold innovations that occured during the era of impressionism and post-impressionism.
The Sculpture Garden
Walk beneath flowering trees in the sculpture garden, on the Mall between 7th and 9th streets. Granite walkways take you through a shaded landscape and sculptures from the museum's permanent collection, including Roy Lichtenstein's playful House I, Miró's Personnage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair. and the garden's newest addition, Marc Chagall's 10-paneled Orphée, a 17 feet by 10 feet mosaic made of thousands of hand-cut colored glass and stone pieces. The huge central fountain, pure magic on hot summer days, is converted to an outdoor skating rink in winter.
There are many free docent-led tours every day, and a recorded tour of highlights of the permanent collection is available free of charge on the main floor adjacent to the rotunda. For a cheat-sheet tour, pick up the laminated "What to See in One Hour" (it's also available on the website), which pinpoints 12 must-see masterworks. The Information Room near the rotunda maintains computerized information on more than 1,700 works of art from the permanent collection. Touch-screen monitors provide access to color images, text, animation, and sounds to help you better understand—and appreciate—the works on display. The gallery has a full calendar of free concerts, films, lectures, and other events. Among the most popular is the summer "Jazz in the Garden" series, held Friday evenings in the sculpture garden. Take a break at one of the museum's cafés, or at the sculpture garden's Pavilion Cafe, open year-round.
Events for children include storytelling that integrates the artwork; hands-on studio sessions and Teen Studio Saturdays, led by curators and educators combining art instruction and studio experimentation. Some welcome walk-ins and others require advance registration; check the website (www.nga.gov) for details.