The National Gallery of Art was created in 1937 for the people of the United States of America by a joint resolution of Congress, accepting the gift of financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon. During the 1920s, Mr. Mellon began collecting with the intention of forming a gallery of art for the nation in Washington. In 1937, the year of his death, he promised his collection to the United States. Funds for the construction of the West Building were provided by The A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust. On March 17, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt accepted the completed building and the collections on behalf of the people of the United States of America.
The paintings and works of sculpture given by Andrew Mellon have formed a nucleus of high quality around which the collections have grown. Mr. Mellon’s hope that the newly created National Gallery would attract gifts from other collectors was soon realized in the form of major donations of art from Samuel H. Kress, Rush H. Kress, Joseph Widener, Chester Dale, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Lessing J. Rosenwald, and Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch as well as individual gifts from hundreds of other donors.
The Gallery’s East Building, located on land set aside in the original Congressional resolution, was opened in 1978. It accommodates the Gallery’s growing collections and expanded exhibition schedule and houses an advanced research center, administrative offices, a great library, and a burgeoning collection of drawings and prints. The building was accepted for the nation on June 1, 1978, by President Jimmy Carter. Funds for construction were given by Paul Mellon and the late Ailsa Mellon Bruce, the son and daughter of the founder, and by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
On May 23, 1999 the Gallery opened an outdoor sculpture garden designed to offer year-round enjoyment to the public. Located in the 6.1-acre block adjacent to the West Building at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., the garden provides an informal, yet elegant setting for works of modern and contemporary sculpture.
The Collectors Committee, an advisory group of private citizens, has made it possible to acquire paintings and sculpture of the twentieth century. Key works of art have also come to the Gallery through the Patrons’ Permanent Fund. In addition, members of the Circle of the National Gallery of Art have provided funds for many special programs and projects. The Sculpture Garden is a gift to the nation from The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation.