The Corcoran Gallery of Art has an interesting history. Its founder, William Wilson Corcoran, stated that the Gallery was to be dedicated to art. Today, it is an art museum that interprets, presents, and preserves the art of today along with the art of yesterday. The college aspect of this fantastic Gallery of Art has helped to shape new generations of designers and artists. The Corcoran philosophy is to have education as a central focus. This education will not only be done in the classrooms, but it will also be provided in the many galleries that are in the greater Washington, DC region.
The gallery’s art collection has an emphasis on American art, but it also includes the art of other cultures and nations. The Corcoran Gallery of Art has committed to making this collection accessible to the broadest possible audience. It does this by providing educational programming and innovative exhibitions. There is also an ongoing program of rigorous scholarship and systematic research. The many activities of this unique art museum and college are directed towards the many diverse communities that have widely differing socio-economic an educational backgrounds. William Corcoran understood his obligation to serve the young artists and lovers of art in the greater Washington, DC region.
There is no question that the Corcoran Gallery of Art is one of the major centers of American art, both contemporary and historic. The Corcoran’s huge collection of American art during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries coincides with the original purpose of the founding of this well-known art gallery, which is to encourage American Genius in art.
William Wilson Corcoran lived from 1798 to 1888. He was born in Georgetown and was the son of a former mayor who was also an influential merchant. He attempted to start a career in the dry goods business at only 19 years of age. His dry goods business was a failure, but he later succeeded as a financier. In 1837, he founded his brokerage firm and formed a partnership with George W. Riggs. Together, they formed the bank of Corcoran and Riggs and soon they were doing a thriving business. In 1854, William Corcoran decided to pursue a philanthropist career.
William Corcoran made a fortune at a time when other contemporary industrialists and businessman were investing their money in various educational and charitable institutions such as universities, museums, libraries, orphanages, and hospitals. He was considered one of the very first patrons of contemporary American art. This was at a time when other art collectors were focusing primarily on European works.
William Corcoran was also a good friend to many of the artists who now have their work hanging in the gallery. Some of these artists include Frederick Church, Thomas Doughty, George Inness, and Albert Bierstadt. In most cases, he would only purchase an artist’s work after the artist had established a good reputation. Though he never served on the art gallery’s board of trustees, he continued to influence the acquisition of new works. At the age of 89, in 1888, he passed away.
To Check out the Corcoran Gallery of Art, check out the map below. Looking for something a bit more adventurous while in town, check out The DC Ghost Tours or plan an educational trip to the Smithsonian Institute.