Art for you and me: The National Gallery of Art’s Research Tools

Today marks the anniversary of the National Gallery of Art’s official opening on March 17, 1937  by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The National Gallery of Art was built during the Great Depression and started its collection with a large donation by a wealthy art collector, Andrew Mellon.  The night of March 17th ol’ FDR made a profound speech to the over eight thousand attendees at the opening.  He made clear that the National Gallery of Art was for the people of the United States, to provide access to the art forall citizens who wish to enjoy it.  In reference to the donors, FDR mentioned they “felt some desire to establish not a memorial of themselves but a monument to the art that they love and to the country they belong.”

Opening night of the National Gallery of
Opening night of the National Gallery of Art.

In following with the tradition set the night of its opening, the National Gallery of Art offers many free services (and free admission!) to anyone seeking information or access to the art in its collection.

River Landscape by Annibale Carracci
River Landscape by Annibale Carracci

If you can’t visit the physical gallery the NGA offers a couple different ways to view the art or find further information on either art pieces or the artists.   If you are researching a specific artist and would like to see which of their pieces are in the NGA’s collection use their Collection Search guide under the top tab “Collections.” What is really neat about this search function is the NGA provides records and in many cases photos of art they have in collection but not currently on display.  Think of it as a behind the scenes look since most of the collection is in storage or out on loan to another museum.

Look Mickey by Roy Lichtenstein


For those doing research on artists but don’t have the full name the NGA’s  Artists page provides three main ways to narrow down your search.  On the left hand side of the page you can sort by nationality, life span range and the first letter of the last name.  This comes in handy when you have an assignment to writing on artists from a specific country or time period.

Untitled (Manhattan at Night) by Ellison Hoover

The Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts is housed next to the NGA and their publication, Center, can be viewed and used for research for free through the NGA.  If you were to need further assistance in research, the NGA’s library has numerous resources and guides to assist you and you can always contact them if you need further help.

Here at Moraine Valley Library we have a research guide specifically for researching Art and Art History, long with a list of databases.   And remember, if you need any assistance in trying to find information for your finals coming up you can always ask a librarian.


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