Renwick Gallery – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

Renwick Gallery

The first purpose-built art gallery in the United States is once again open as a center of craft arts. 


The Renwick Gallery building has the distinction of being the first art museum in Washington D.C., and the first U.S. building purpose-built to be an art gallery. Once known as the “American Louvre,” it is now known as a hub of American craft art. 

Originally the building that now houses the Renwick Gallery was made to house William Wilson Corcoran’s art collection. However, within a few years, the Corcoran art collection outgrew the historic building. The Renwick building (named after its architect, James Renwick Jr.) then became the home of the Federal Court of Claims. In 1965 President Johnson signed an executive order that transferred over the Renwick building to the Smithsonian Institution. After a renovation, the building opened in 1972 as the branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum dedicated to American arts, crafts, and design. 

Now known as the Renwick Gallery, the building itself is a National Historic Landmark. It was originally modeled after the Louvre’s Tuileries addition and during its construction some referred to it as the “American Louvre.” While it was a popular and active gallery, The Renwick Gallery was briefly closed from December 2013 to November 2015 while undergoing renovation. 

On November 20, 2015 the Renwick Gallery reopened, and the first building in the U.S. dedicated as an art museum is now open for the general public to visit once again. 

Know Before You Go

On 17th street, closest Metro stations are Farragut West and Farragut North.

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