Home to the Smithsonian Art Museum’s collection of contemporary craft and decorative art, the Renwick Gallery is a must-see when you’re staying at holiday studio rentals in Washington, D.C. Located in the first building expressly built for an art museum in the United States, the gallery has been a branch of the Smithsonian system since 1972.
The innovative approaches to making and emphasizing craft as a lens to living differently in a modern world is at the core of the gallery’s artistic mission. It was originally designed to house the art of William Wilson Corcoran, a prominent 19th century Washington banker, who felt passionately about the role art and creativity had to play on the national stage. In 1858, Corcoran enlisted the help of architect James Renwick Jr., who had previously designed the Smithsonian’s Castle in Washington as well as St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Inspired by recent additions to the Louvre, Renwick modeled the structure in the Second Empire style, integrating his own flair into the pavilions, mansard roofs, and double columns.
As time passed, Corcoran’s collection was relocated to a larger building after the U.S. Court of Claims took over the building in 1899, and, in the 1950s, Congress proposed that the increasingly-dilapidated building be razed to make way for larger government buildings. In 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy successfully led a campaign to save the Renwick Gallery as part of her plan to restore Lafayette Square, preserving its historic treasures.
After a two-year hiatus, the gallery re-opened its doors on November 13, 2016, following an in-depth interior and exterior renovation. It marked the first major renovation of the property in 45 years. Gallery improvements included an upgrade of the lighting system to LED technology, replacement of and updates to all building infrastructure, installation of a new wireless show control system, and replication of the building’s original historic window profile.Honoring Studio Craft, the Renwick Gallery now houses almost 2,000 objects, making it one of the finest, most extensive representations of this unique American art movement. Open all year round (with the exception of Christmas Day), the gallery offers rotating and permanent exhibits as well as educational programming for all ages and interests. Whether you are traveling in warm weather or cold, you will want to make this cornerstone establishment within walking distance of holiday apartment rentals part of your visit to Washington, D.C.