The Best Art Museums of Washington, D.C.

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Art enthusiasts know the Nation’s Capital is home to a bounty of world-class galleries. Renee Sklarew, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., shares with us her list of the best art museums in our nation’s capital.

The National Gallery of Art Considered to be one of the finest art institutions in the world, the West Wing has the only DaVinci in the Western Hemisphere. The museum’s collection takes hours to see in its entirety, but some of the highlights, like Van Gogh’s self-portrait and Picasso’s blue period paintings, will take your breath away. The National Gallery’s East Wing, built by IM Pei in 1970, is an architectural masterpiece containing modern and contemporary sculpture, paintings, and photographic images. Don’t miss the rooftop deck for a panoramic view of the US Capitol, National Mall, and Penn Quarter.

The Renwick Gallery This National Landmark Building founded in 1859 contains a diverse collection of showstopping modern art installations. Located across from the White House, visitors can see the whole gallery in about one hour.

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The National Portrait Gallery Nowhere will you find more enchanting portraiture than in this gorgeous Smithsonian art gallery. The Hall of Presidents (may be temporarily closed) and other American paintings and photographs offer an opportunity to time travel through the last 200 years since the founding of the nation. There are also collections featuring political heroes, scientists, noteworthy performing artists, and athletes. The Kogod Courtyard, where you can rest and grab a bite before moving on, connects the Portrait Gallery with the American Art Museum. It’s truly the most peaceful place in Washington to relax.

Smithsonian American Art Museum Located on the other half of the National Portrait Gallery is the Smithsonian collection of significant American art. This whimsical place features sculpture and folk art with lots of groundbreaking art installations and memorabilia. From early American to contemporary Latin American, this museum is a charmer and it’s open until 7 p.m.

The Philips Collection Located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, this treasure caters to visitors who like their art viewing experience condensed. There are so many great paintings in this converted townhouse. Some highlights include Renoir’s Boating Party and Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series. There’s even a whole room of Rothko paintings, which is considered the perfect place to meditate.

National Museum of Women in the Arts When you realize that only one woman artist has a painting in the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art, you’ll realize why this museum is so important. Installed in a magnificent historic mansion, there is a bounty of unsung yet supremely talented artists on display here, including Frida Kahlo.

The George Washington Museum and Textile Museum This unique collection of ancient textiles is on display on the George Washington University Campus. There’s a new section on fashion and lots of contemporary creations too.

Admission to all museums and art galleries is free of charge, except for the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which charges $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors.  The George Washington Museum and Textile Museum asks for an $8 contribution.

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