The Capital Image: Painters in Washington, 1800-1915

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  • This book was produced as part of the first retrospective exhibition at the American Museum of American Art concerning Washington, D.C. artists of the 19th century, and serves as a history of both the city and its art during that time. This thoroughly detailed study of art and artists in the Nation's Capital from 1800 to 1915 is divided into four main chapters, each dealing with specific years within that period. The first chapter covers 1790-1820: portraiture is cited as being as the mainstay of artists attracted to establishing a reputation in the new capital, with Gilbert Stuart being the most notable. Chapter Two concerns the period from 1820 to 1850: a few small museums came and went during the years but those remaining in 1842 were absorbed into the National Institution for the Advancement of Science and Art, which was established by the U. S. Congress.
  • The National Institute had custody of various donated artifacts, those from U. S. Government-sponsored expeditions, and, among a vast array of other items, the portraits of American Indians that artist Charles Bird King, also founder of a studio-gallery-museum, painted for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These paintings and other objects from the Institute's collections were exhibited in the new Patent Office; the Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846 and the National Institute's collections were transferred to its jurisdiction in 1857. The third chapter covers 1850-1875: the situation for artists improved during this period of rapid growth in the city's institutions, government agencies, and education and art institutions; Constantino Brumidi was the chief fresco painter in the expanded Capitol building.
  • The Federal government's role in surveying the nation's western areas and documenting Native Americans brought several great painters of the west to Washington. The Civil War aborted all but the most important art initiatives during the years 1861 to 1865, but brought the new art of photography to the forefront, especially the work of Mathew Brady. Washington banker William W. Corcoran, an art collector and patron, fulfilled his desire to establish a public gallery when his art museum, designed by Smithsonian Castle architect James Renwick, opened in 1874. Chapter Four, "The Golden Age of Washington Art," covers 1875 to 1915. The city had an abundance of artistic talent and institutions, and population with resources enough to sustain a viable art community. Artists were mostly employed by federal agencies, but some taught in new, flourishing art schools.


  • Brady, Mathew B. 1823 (ca.)-1896
  • Brumidi, Constantino
  • Renwick, James 1818-1895
  • King, Charles Bird
  • Corcoran, W. W (William Wilson) 1798-1888
  • Stuart, Gilbert 1755-1828
  • National Museum of American Art (U.S.)
  • Renwick Gallery
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art
  • National Collection of Fine Arts
  • Smithsonian Institution Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • Smithsonian American Art Museum


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


Paperback book with over 170 plates and figures; extensive "Notes," "Biographies, Sources, and Index of the Artists," [biographies of 113 artists are included, and 48 additional artists are mentioned], and "Bibliography" sections. Co-author Cosentino was the exhibition's guest curator and Glassie was a director of the Columbia Historical Society.

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


  • 1983
  • 19th century


  • Museum buildings
  • Photography
  • Art
  • Painters
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • History
  • Painting
  • Painters--Biography
  • Painting, Modern
  • Museum exhibits
  • Biography
  • Art--History
  • Art objects
  • Photography--History


  • United States
  • Washington, D.C
  • Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

280 pages

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