WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of prized artworks from one of the nation's oldest, now shuttered art museums have been selected for an unprecedented acquisition by the National Gallery of Art, representing a "transformative" infusion of art on the National Mall.
The museum announced Thursday an initial acquisition of 6,430 works of American and European art from the Corcoran Gallery of Art collection of more than 17,600 works.
While other major collections have come to the National Gallery over decades, absorbing so many important pieces all at once, especially American art, will transform the museum, said Museum Director Earl A. Powell III.
"It sort of lifts the entire museum collection up substantially," Powell said. "It will redefine the National Gallery's American collection, which has always been one of the great collections. It's now a pre-eminent collection of American paintings."
Highlights likely to become permanent fixtures in the galleries include Frederic Church's masterpiece "Niagara" from 1857, Thomas Eakins' "Singing a Pathetic Song" and Edward Hopper's 1939 painting of sailors on Cape Cod, "Ground Swell," curators said. Modern art acquisitions include pieces by Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Georgia O'Keeffe.
The Corcoran Gallery opened to the public in 1874, more than 60 years before the National Gallery, striving to build an art collection worthy of the nation's capital. After years of financial and management trouble more recently, the Corcoran closed in 2014 with an estimated $2 billion in assets, ending a 140-year era focused largely on contemporary art. A judge approved transferring the art to the National Gallery and the Corcoran's art school to George Washington University.
An exhibition opening Friday will showcase American masterpieces being transferred to the national collection. Some pieces fill significant gaps and will help diversify the collection, curators said, including genre paintings of ordinary people, landscapes of the American West, and paintings by women and African-American artists.
Major pieces include Albert Bierstadt's landscapes "The Last of the Buffalo," ''Buffalo Trail: The Impending Storm" and "Mount Corcoran."
"We are now going to have a very complete story of what was going on with Western imagery in the 19th century," said curator Nancy Anderson.
At least 82 American painters from the Corcoran collection were not previously represented in the National Gallery's paintings collection.
The museum acquired the Corcoran's entire Evans-Tibbs Collection of 33 works by African-Americans ranging from Henry Ossawa Tanner to Betye Saar.
In total, the National Gallery is acquiring 226 American paintings, 78 French paintings, a handful of British and Dutch paintings and 381 sculptures, including Hiram Powers' famous "The Greek Slave" in marble.
More than half the Corcoran collection was made up of prints, drawings and watercolors. The National Gallery is acquiring 3,445 such works initially, including pieces by Edgar Degas and Winslow Homer. While many of these pieces were previously kept in storage, the National Gallery has study rooms to make them available daily by appointment.
Photography also was a substantial part of the Corcoran collection, especially photojournalism and social documentary, and the National Gallery is acquiring 1,886 photographs.
Curators will continue reviewing additional pieces from the Corcoran for possible acquisition or will recommend some be sent to other museums in Washington.
"I think the great thing is the collection is still in Washington," Powell said. "That collection could be all over America. ... The Corcoran won't go away. It's reformulated, but it's not disappearing."
Corcoran Collection Acquisitions: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/press/2015/nga-corcoran-announcements.html
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