The Corcoran Gallery of Art, one of the first private museums in the United States, was established in Washington, D.C., in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran. It expanded in 1880 to include the Corcoran College of Art and Design and, for more than a century, remained “dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius.”
In 2014, the Corcoran transferred the college to George Washington University and distributed the collection. The National Portrait Gallery received eighty portraits, ranging from images of nineteenth-century American presidents to twentieth-century artists, athletes, and movie stars. This exhibition features a selection of portraits from this generous gift.
William Wilson Corcoran’s wide-ranging collection encompassed portraits of historical and contemporary figures. In 1879, the first curator of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, William MacLeod, noted that Corcoran’s purchase of a series of presidential portraits by George Peter Alexander Healy showed “the determination of Mr. Corcoran and the trustees to make national portraiture a strong point in the gallery.” Today, Corcoran’s legacy continues as thousands of works from the collection are treasured and exhibited by several institutions in the Washington, D.C., area, including other Smithsonian museums, the National Gallery of Art, and the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.