Agency history, 1906-

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  • Marsh, George Perkins 1801-1882
  • Stanley, John Mix 1814-1872
  • King, Charles Bird 1785-1862
  • Catlin, George 1796-1872
  • Roosevelt, Theodore 1858-1919
  • Johnston, Harriet Lane 1830-1903
  • Evans, William T. 1843-1918
  • Holmes, William Henry 1846-1933
  • Tolman, Ruel P (Ruel Pardee) 1878-1954
  • Mellon, Andrew W (Andrew William) 1855-1937
  • Beggs, Thomas M
  • Scott, David W. 1916-
  • Davis, Robert Tyler
  • Taylor, Joshua C (Joshua Charles) 1917-1981
  • Lowe, Harry 1922-
  • Eldredge, Charles C
  • Broun, Elizabeth
  • Stebich, Stephanie A
  • National Gallery of Art (U.S.)
  • National Collection of Fine Arts (U.S.)
  • National Museum of American Art (U.S.)
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • Patent Office Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • National Institute
  • Library of Congress
  • United States Congress
  • District of Columbia Supreme Court
  • National Museum of Natural History Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Renwick Gallery


Agency History


  • This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
  • The history of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) collection dates to the beginning of the Smithsonian Institution when, in 1846, the act establishing the Smithsonian authorized the Board of Regents to collect objects of art. Called the Gallery of Art, the collection included prints and drawings collected by George Perkins Marsh and North American Indian portraits and paintings by John Mix Stanley and Charles Bird King. Portions of the collection were transferred from the Old Patent Office Building and the National Institute in 1858 and 1862, respectively. In 1865, fire destroyed a sizable portion of the collection, then housed in the Smithsonian Institution Building. The surviving prints and drawings were loaned temporarily to the Library of Congress, while the paintings and sculptures were sent to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. These deposits were recalled in 1895 and were added to the George Catlin collection, which had been acquired in 1879.
  • In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt recommended to Congress that the art collection contemplated in the act creating the Smithsonian be established as a national gallery of art and that the Institution be authorized to accept additions to the collection. Congress failed to take action on the recommendation. In 1906, the Gallery of Art achieved official status when the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, interpreting the Smithsonian's organic act, defined the Gallery of Art to be in fact the National Gallery of Art. The Harriet Lane Johnston collection, donated to the Smithsonian in 1906, and the William T. Evans collection, donated in 1907, formed the nucleus for the new Gallery.
  • The National Gallery of Art (NGA) was administered by the United States National Museum (USNM) from 1907 until 1920, when Congress granted the Gallery enough funds to become a separate Smithsonian bureau. William Henry Holmes, Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1902-1909, and Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology, 1910-1920, held the position of Curator of the National Gallery, 1907-1920. When NGA became a separate bureau in 1920, Holmes resigned his position with the USNM and became the first Director of the Gallery. Holmes retired in 1932 and Ruel P. Tolman, Curator of the Division of Graphic Arts, USNM, became Acting Director. In 1937, the National Gallery of Art had its name changed to the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA), when the old name was assigned to the collection donated by Andrew W. Mellon to the United States. Tolman became Director of NCFA in 1946, and held the position until his retirement in 1948. Since 1948, the directors of NCFA have included Thomas M. Beggs, 1948-1964, David W. Scott, 1965-1969, Robert Tyler Davis, interim Director, 1969, and Joshua C. Taylor, 1970-1979. In 1980, NCFA was renamed the National Museum of American Art (NMAA). Taylor continued as Director of NMAA from 1980 until his death in 1981. Harry Lowe was appointed Acting Director and held the post until mid-1982 when Charles C. Eldredge became Director. Eldredge was succeeded in 1988 by Elizabeth Broun, who was appointed Acting Director in 1988 and Director in 1989. She served 1989-2016. In October 2000, NMAA was renamed the Smithsonian American Art Museum. After the retirement of Broun in 2016, Stephanie A. Stebich was named Director in 2017.
  • The SAAM collection has had many homes. Before 1906, the Gallery exhibited its collection in the Art Room of the Smithsonian Library. Between 1907 and 1909 the collection was divided between the Arts and Industries Building and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1910 the collection was consolidated and moved to a hall in the newly constructed Natural History Building where, in March of that year, the Gallery opened the first exhibition to be staged in the building. In 1924 and again in 1939 architectural plans for the Gallery were drawn up, but funds were never appropriated for a building. In 1968 the collection was moved to the old Patent Office Building which was renamed the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries Building. In 1972, NCFA gained additional gallery space with the acquisition of the Renwick Gallery. In 1981, the Fine Arts and Portrait Galleries Building was renamed the American Art and Portrait Gallery Building.

Repository Loc.

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520


  • 1906
  • 1906-


  • Art museums
  • Art, American


Mixed archival materials

Local number

SIA AH00007

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