One word… Wow. Washington was the the last city on my major museums tour – which includes Paris (the Louvre and Orsay), Madrid (the Prado), Florence (the Offices), New York (the Met and MOMA), Amsterdam (Rijskmuseum), and London (the National Gallery and the Tate).
> Main art periods: Italian Renaissance to Post-Impressionism (West Building)
> My coups de coeur, not to miss: an Adoration of Magi by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi (yes, both of them!), Ginevra de Benci by Leonard de Vinci, Alba Madonna by Raphael, Woman Holding a Balance by Vermeer, as well as an impressive impressionist collection
> Tip: the museum is free and so is the audio guide so take advantage of it. Also pick up a leaflet with the highlights of the museum to budget your time. The National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington lives up to its reputation. When you think there can’t possibly be any more, you will find even more masterpieces around the next corner. It is a must-see for any art lover.
The collections are displayed chronologically. We can follow the evolution of art from Byzantine, to Middle Age to the Renaissance in particular, noticing changes in perspective and in the representation of emotions and expression, and the emergence of the 3/4 profile in Renaissance portraits. Italian Quattrocento painter Filippo Lippi painted an extraordinarily expressive eye gaze of Marie and sadness of Jesus in Madonna and Child (1440). Later, in 1474-78, the genius Leonardo da Vinci painted Ginevra de Benci where he mastered his sfumato technique in Ginevra’s lips (and you can look close – it’s not as crowded as for the Mona Lisa!). The collection helped me to see the similarities in style and links between (i) Bellini, Giorgione and Titian (ii) Filippo Lippi, Boticcelli, Filippino Lippi, and (iii) Raphaël and Perugino. I was obsessed by Giorgione: he died from the plague in his early 30s so his paintings are rare and always mysterious. His Adoration of Shepherds is on show.
The NGA is also known for its Impressionist collection, quite rightly. Entering the first room dedicated to Impressionism, my lips parted, my mouth opened and then my eyes opened wide! The term Impressionism came from a disdainful art critic who looked at Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (Impression, Soleil levant, now at Musée Marmottan in Paris). Impressionists are characterised by outdoor painting, visible brushstroke (which gives the “unfinished” look) and emphasis on the effects of light, air, and atmosphere. The NGA collection has impressionist and post impressionist masterpieces. The museum is quite generous in lending his treasures to other museums, so I recognised some from temporary exhibitions in Europe. For instance, Manet’s Gare Saint-Lazare featured in the recent Royal Academy’s Manet: Portraying Life show in London. There are many more to see there though… so book your flight!