Discover the nation’s first collection of American art and its home for contemporary craft at these free DC museums.
Wander through three centuries of American art
The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC is one of the largest and most expansive collections of American art in the world. The museum’s two locations, the main building in Penn Quarter and the Renwick Gallery located next to the White House, represent thousands of artists spanning hundreds of years.
Journey through America’s artistic development by viewing 17th- and 18th-century paintings from from the colonies of New Spain and New England, then make your way through the 19th century art collection, which highlights the Western migration, impressionism and the Gilded Age. A visit to this museum is as encompassing a museum experience as one can find.
What’s inside the Smithsonian American Art Museum?
At the Smithsonian American Art Museum you will encounter America’s most revered artists of each time period, as forms, styles and genres were developed and perfected – as well as the National Portrait Gallery, which shares the same building. The 20th century saw progress in the realms of abstraction and realism, as visitors can see through the museum’s large collection of New Deal art and murals. The museum also hosts a vast contemporary art collection, so your trek through American art will bring you all the way to the present day. If you are looking for a more culturally oriented perspective, collections do stem beyond eras: the museum features exhibits specifically dedicated to African American and Latino artists, as well as folk art.
The Renwick Gallery is the museum’s free-to-enter home for contemporary craft and decorative art, displaying the finest in American craft and decorative art in its beautiful, state-of-the-art building just steps from the White House. The Renwick is known for its groundbreaking interactive exhibits, so make sure to check out what's happening there before you go.
Museum locations and hours
The American Art Museum is located on 8th and F streets NW, while the Renwick Gallery can be found at Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street NW. Admission is always free, the museums are open Wednesday-Sunday and regular hours are 11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m at the American Art Museum and 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. at the Renwick. Both facilities are handicap accessible.
Take a break in the Kogod Courtyard
If your march through the annals of American art history has you feeling both amazed and a bit tired, enjoy the Kogod Courtyard, set in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Here you can relax and gear your mind back toward the present via free Wi-Fi. The Courtyard Café is currently closed and outside food and drink is prohibited, with the exception of closed water bottles.