Summary
Collection ID:
Record Unit 311
Creators:
National Collection of Fine Arts. Office of the Director
Dates:
1892-1960
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
22 cu. ft. (44 document boxes)
Repository:
Smithsonian Institution Archives

Descriptive Entry
Descriptive Entry
This record unit documents the administration of William Henry Holmes, first Curator of the National Gallery of Art (NGA), 1907-1920, and Director of the Gallery, 1920-1932. To a lesser extent, it also documents the administration of Ruel P. Tolman, Acting Director of NGA, 1932-1937, and the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA), 1937-1946, and Director of NCFA, 1946-1948. A few records from the Thomas M. Beggs administration (1948-1964) are also filed here.
Records document the routine operations of the NGA when it was a department of the United States National Museum, when it became a separate bureau of the Smithsonian, and when it became the NCFA. The files include internal correspondence and log books, as well as numerous public inquiries about artists, works of art, exhibitions, and donations of art and bequests. The Charles Lang Freer collection gift, the effects of early copyright laws regarding photographing art, and the long campaign for an NGA building are documented here. These records also include many photographs of staff, collections, exhibitions, and the galleries. Exhibition materials such as catalogs, installation photographs, shipping forms, invoices, and condition reports mostly document loan exhibitions and some new acquisitions. Frequent sponsors of loan exhibitions included the Pan American Union/League, the American Federation of Arts, the Pennsylvania Society Club, the Metropolitan State Art Contest, and the Society of Washington Artists.
In addition, these records document campaigns to raise public and private support for the national art collection. There is correspondence with art galleries and reports of visits to galleries throughout the United States, including the Carolina Art Association and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Minutes and reports show the functions and activities of the National Gallery of Art Advisory Committee, National Gallery of Art Commission, and Smithsonian Gallery of Art Commission.
Important Smithsonian correspondents include Charles G. Abbot, Cyrus Adler, Richard Rathbun, William deC. Ravenel, Charles D. Walcott, and Alexander Wetmore. There is also considerable correspondence with Leila Mechlin of the American Federation of Arts with Florence N. Levy, who was affiliated with the American Art Annual, and with various women's clubs that helped promote the NGA.

Historical Note
Historical Note
The history of the National Gallery of Art (later named the National Collection of Fine Arts) begins well before the foundation of the Smithsonian Institution. The Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences was established in 1816; and John Varden founded his own museum, later called the Washington Museum, in 1829. These two organizations eventually merged with the National Institution for the Promotion of Science, created in 1840, and incorporated by Congress as the National Institute in 1842. The National Institute displayed its art works in the newly-constructed Patent Office Building, under the care of John Varden. It boasted a large collection of John Mix Stanley and Charles Bird King Indian portraits.
When the Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846, Congress authorized its Regents to collect "all objects of art and of foreign and curious research." Although art did not receive much focus until the early twentieth century, the collection slowly grew. Joseph Henry, first Secretary of the Smithsonian, purchased a large collection of George Perkins Marsh etchings and engravings in 1849. In 1858 government-owned art works previously shown in the Patent Building were removed to the west wing of the Smithsonian Institution Building ("Castle"), and in 1862, when the National Institute charter expired, its collections were transferred to the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian's small art collection suffered a great setback in 1865, when most of the collection displayed on the second floor of the Castle was destroyed by fire. Surviving works were removed; prints and drawings were stored at the Library of Congress, and paintings and sculptures at the Corcoran Gallery of Art (in the building now home to the Renwick Gallery).
Private contributions helped to rebuild the Smithsonian's art gallery. Most notably, Mrs. Joseph Harrison presented the Institution with a collection of George C. Catlin Indian paintings in 1879, and the new works were shown in the Castle and in the newly-completed National Museum Building. In 1896 the remainder of the Smithsonian collection was recalled from the Library of Congress and the Corcoran by Secretary Samuel P. Langley, and was added to the Catlin collection in the Castle and National Museum Buildings. Langley also created an "Art Room" on the second floor of the Castle, which displayed reproductions of paintings, mostly portraits, by Old Masters, and a frieze of Parthenon reliefs in plaster around the room.
At the turn of the century, however, a national gallery still did not exist in Washington, and pressure increased from outside the Smithsonian to create such an organization. President Theodore Roosevelt campaigned for a National Gallery, but Congress failed to act on his request in 1904. In 1903 Harriet Lane Johnston, President James Buchanan's niece and lady of the White House during his administration, bequeathed her large collection to a "national gallery of art." The trustees of her estate refused to release her collection until such a gallery existed, and a legal battle ensued. In 1905 the District of Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the Smithsonian collection fell within the description of a national gallery, and the Johnston collection was delivered to the Institution in 1906. The nucleus of the National Gallery consisted of the Johnston Collection of European and American art and the William T. Evans Collection of contemporary American art (added in 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt's influence). The new additions greatly expanded the Gallery's holdings, but its growth would be severely hampered by the Smithsonian's lack of funds and an unwillingness to begin and support new ventures.
The National Gallery of Art (NGA) was administered under the United States National Museum's (USNM) Department of Anthropology. William Henry Holmes (1846-1933), artist, topographer, archeologist, and geologist, was named first Curator of the NGA, in addition to his duties as Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE) Chief (1902-1909), and later as Curator of the Department of Anthropology (1910-1920). Holmes was a part of the Smithsonian most of his life. He was born near Cadiz, Ohio, in the same year as the Institution's founding. A teacher and graduate of McNeely Normal School (1870) in Hopedale, Ohio, Holmes moved to Washington, D.C., in 1871 to study art under Theodor Kaufmann. During his studies he became acquainted with another Kaufmann student, Mary Henry, daughter of Joseph Henry. On her suggestion, he visited the Smithsonian. Ornithologist Jose Zeledon noticed Holmes as he was sketching two birds on exhibit, and Zeledon introduced Holmes to Fielding Bradford Meek, paleontologist and stratigrapher of state and federal surveys. Impressed with his drawings, Meek immediately hired Holmes as an illustrator.
In his first years with the Smithsonian, Holmes joined Ferdinand V. Hayden's U.S. Survey of the Territories as an artist-topographer (1872) and was later appointed assistant geologist (1874). This work inspired his career as an archeologist and his interest in Southwestern cliff dwellings. Between 1880 and 1889 Holmes worked with the U.S. Geological Survey on the Charles Dutton expedition to the Grand Canyon, while also serving as Honorary Curator of Aboriginal Ceramics for the USNM. Holmes achieved great respect for his scientific knowledge and artistic talent. By 1889 he was named Director of the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology.
In 1894 Holmes moved to Chicago to manage the BAE exhibitions at the Field Columbian Museum and to teach anthropic geology at the University of Chicago. During this time he traveled with the Allison V. Armour expedition to the Yucatan. His stay in Chicago lasted until 1897 when he returned to the Smithsonian as Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology. In 1902 he resigned to become the BAE Chief.
Holmes was the natural choice for the Gallery's first Curator. An accomplished artist and advocate of the arts, he was often consulted on questions of exhibition and art before the NGA existed. Holmes can be placed within the tradition of American artist-scientists exemplified by Thomas Jefferson and Charles Willson Peale. His sketches of natural history specimens were highly regarded and are still used by scientists today. As a painter, Holmes is grouped in the "Washington Landscape School." His style appears impressionistic (especially his later work), although he would have rejected that label; Holmes was artistically conservative, and spoke against the aberrations of such artists as Matisse. Leila Mechlin, Washington art critic, considered him one of the best watercolorists in the country.
During his tenure with the National Gallery, the collections grew considerably, adding the Johnston and Evans Collections, as well as the A. R. and M. H. Eddy Collection of miniatures and paintings (1918), the Ralph Cross Johnson and Alfred Duane Pell Collections of European masters (1919), the Henry Ward Ranger bequest (1920), and the John Gellatly Collection (1929), a significant gift of American Renaissance works, decorative arts, and European masters. Holmes also saw the addition of the National Portrait Committee, formed in 1919 to document America's role in World War I.
Space for the national art works was always an issue for the Gallery. Holmes continually lobbied for a separate building to house the Gallery, appealing to America's patriotism and belief in civilization. In its early years, collections were housed in designated areas throughout the Castle and the National Museum Building. When the new museum building, now the Natural History Building, was completed in 1910, the Gallery was allowed space in its central skylighted hall, and a small opening was held March 17, 1910. This, however, was inadequate, and limited both the Smithsonian's art and natural history interests. Donors often hesitated to give to the Gallery due to these space limitations. In 1923 Senator Henry Cabot Lodge led a Congressional motion to set aside space on the Mall east of the Natural History Building for a new American art and history building. The Smithsonian was obligated to raise funds for construction. The Regents raised $10,000 for initial planning costs, and commissioned Freer architect Charles A. Platt to design the new museum. National organizations, most significantly women's clubs, helped campaign for a Gallery building, but did not raise the necessary monies.
In 1920, the Regents established the National Gallery of Art as a separate Smithsonian bureau. Holmes ended his ties with the National Museum and became the Gallery's first Director. As head of the NGA for nearly thirty years, Holmes assembled a remarkable program of exhibitions, organized the meager and scattered collections, and remained committed to the artistic community. He was a member of several art organizations, including the Washington Water Color Club, and was a charter member of the Cosmos Club, in which he promoted art interests.
Holmes retired from the National Gallery in 1932 and died in 1933. He was succeeded by Ruel Pardee Tolman (1878-1954). Tolman was born in Brookfield, Vermont, and educated in California, where he studied art at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, the Los Angeles School of Art and Design, and the University of California at Berkeley. Tolman moved to Washington, D.C., in 1902, where he studied at the Corcoran School of Art (1902-1905) and at the National Academy of Design in New York (1906). He taught at the Corcoran between 1906 and 1918 and was employed in the Graphic Arts Division of the USNM, where he eventually became Curator. He remained with Graphic Arts when he was named Acting Director of the NGA (1932-1946); and later resigned his curatorship to become Director of NGA (1946-1948).
In the late 1930s Andrew Mellon donated his considerable collection for a new gallery of art. In 1937 his collection became the National Gallery of Art, administered by an independent board of trustees, in cooperation with the Smithsonian, and housed in a new building at 7th Street and Constitution Avenue. The former National Gallery was renamed the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA), with Tolman continuing as Acting Director and art works remaining in the Natural History Building "art hall." From the 1930s forward, the NCFA focused more exclusively on American art, and the new National Gallery concerned itself primarily with European Masters.
Tolman resigned from the NCFA in 1948, succeeded by Thomas M. Beggs. During Beggs's administration (1948-1964), Alice Pike Barney, Washington painter, donated part of her collection (1951), which became the core of an extensive lending program later established by Natalie Clifford Barney and Mrs. Laura Dreyfus-Barney, and her Sheridan Circle studio home for meeting purposes (1960).
In 1957 the NCFA, still without a home of its own, was granted use of the Old Patent Office Building, scheduled for demolition but preserved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The NCFA and the Portrait Gallery were transferred to the Patent Office Building in 1962 and opened on May 6, 1968. NCFA portraits were delegated to the Portrait Gallery, decorative arts to the new National Museum of History and Technology, and other works to various Smithsonian bureaus. In 1972 Smithsonian-owned exhibits of crafts and design were removed from storage in the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the U.S. Court of Claims into the new Renwick Gallery.

Chronology
Chronology
1816-1838
Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts & Sciences founded in Washington, D.C.
1829
John Varden Museum founded, later becomes Washington Museum (1836)
1840-1862
National Institution for the Promotion of Science is: founded (1840); combined with Varden collection and Columbian Institute (1840-1841); incorporated by Congress as the National Institute (1842)
1846
Smithsonian Institution founded
December 1, 1846
William Henry Holmes born near Cadiz, Ohio
1849
George P. Marsh etchings and engravings purchased by Secretary Joseph Henry
1858
Government art works moved from Patent Office Building
1862
Collections from National Institute are transferred to Smithsonian at expiration of charter
1865
Castle fire (January 24); surviving works moved to Library of Congress (prints and drawings) and to Corcoran (paintings and sculptures)
1865
Holmes receives teaching certificate in Ohio
1868
Ruel Pardee Tolman born in Brookfield, Vermont
1870
Holmes graduates from McNeely Normal School, Hopedale, Ohio
1871
Holmes hired by Smithsonian as illustrator
1872-1877
Holmes joins U.S. Survey of the Territories under Ferdinand V. Hayden as artist-topographer; appointed assistant geologist (1874)
1878
Cosmos Club founded, Holmes is charter member
1879
Catlin collection of Indian paintings donated
1879
National Museum Building completed (now Arts & Industries Building)
1879-1880
Holmes studies and travels in Europe
1880-1889
Holmes joins U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Charles Dutton expedition to Grand Canyon
1882-1889
Holmes is Honorary Curator of Aboriginal Ceramics, USNM
1883
Holmes marries Kate Clifton Osgood, genre painter, teacher at Madeira School (October); they have two children, Osgood and William Heberling
1889-1893
Holmes is Director of the Smithsonian Bureau of American Ethnology
1894-1897
Holmes moves to Chicago as professor of anthropic geology at the University of Chicago, and Head Curator of Anthropology at the Field Columbian Museum; joins Allison V. Armour expedition to Yucatan (1894)
1896
Remainder of Smithsonian art works recalled to Castle; Secretary Langley creates "art room" on second floor displaying copies of masterpieces
1897-1902
Tolman studies at Mark Hopkins Institute of Art, the Los Angeles School of Art & Design, and the University of California at Berkeley
1897-1902
Holmes is Head Curator of the Department of Anthropology, USNM
1898
Holmes wins Loubat Prize for achievement in archeology
1902-1905
Tolman studies at the Corcoran School of Art
1902-1909
Holmes is Chief of Bureau of American Ethnology
1903
Harriet Lane Johnston bequeaths collection of European and American works to a "national gallery of art"
December 6, 1904
President Theodore Roosevelt proposes a National Gallery of Art, no Congressional action taken
1905
Holmes elected to National Academy of Sciences
1905-1906
Charles Lang Freer offers collection of Asian art to Smithsonian with conditions to bequeath art and building after his death; formally accepted by Regents in 1906; suit filed with District of Columbia Supreme Court over Johnston collection (February 7); court order gives collection to Smithsonian (July 18); collection delivered (August 3)
1906-1918
Tolman teaches at Corcoran and works in Graphic Arts Division of U.S. National Museum
1906
National Gallery of Art officially established
1906-1920
NGA administered by USNM, Holmes is Curator
1907
William T. Evans donates contemporary American art works
March 17, 1910
Natural History Building opened; small opening for NGA exhibition space
1910-1920
Holmes is Head Curator of Department of Anthropology, USNM
1912-1946
Tolman is Curator of Graphic Arts, USNM
1915
Group of French artists donate 82 drawings in appreciation of American assistance in WWI
1916
Charles Lang Freer authorizes the immediate construction of a building designed by Charles A. Platt to house his collection
1917
Approval given to add National Portrait Gallery to the NGA
1918
A. R. and M. H. Eddy donate collection of miniatures and paintings
1918
Holmes receives Doctor of Sciences degree from George Washington University
1919
Ralph Cross Johnson donates his collection of paintings, largely European masters; Rev. Alfred Duane Pell donates European masters
1919
Henry Ward Ranger bequests money for art works which are to eventually reside in the NGA
September 25, 1919
Charles Lang Freer dies
1919
Holmes wins second Loubat Prize
July 1, 1920
Congress establishes the NGA as a separate Smithsonian bureau
1920
Freer Gallery opens in December, John E. Lodge is Curator
1920-1932
Holmes is Director of National Gallery of Art
1923
Congress sets aside space on Mall east of Natural History for American history and art; lack of funds prevents construction of building designed by Charles A. Platt
1923
Walter Beck donates Civil War Portraits
1923
World War I portraits displayed in NGA; beginning of Portrait Gallery
1925
Kate Clifton Osgood Holmes dies
1925
Mrs. John B. Henderson offers land (4-5 acres) on Meridian Hill, facing 16th Street, for gallery building
1926
Resolution favors the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery as a unit of the NGA
1926
Holmes' left leg amputated as a result of blood poisoning
1929
John Gellatly Collection gift of over 100 American Renaissance works and decorative arts and old European masters promised to the NGA; the collection to remain in the Heckscher Building in New York City for four years
June 30, 1932
Holmes retires
1932-1946
Ruel P. Tolman is Acting Director of NGA
April 20, 1933
Holmes dies in Royal Oak, Michigan
1933
Gellatly Collection transferred to the Smithsonian (May 1); opened to the public (June 1)
1937
National Gallery becomes the National Collection of Fine Arts; the Andrew Mellon collection becomes the National Gallery of Art
August 26, 1937
Andrew W. Mellon dies
1937-1938
Smithsonian Gallery of Art competition, building never constructed
1938
Congress authorizes space on Mall across from Mellon National Gallery for NCFA use, no money is made available
July 28, 1946
Tolman named Director of NCFA
1948
Tolman resigns from NCFA (March 31); Thomas M. Beggs succeeds him (Assistant Director, July 30, 1947; Director, April 1, 1948-1964)
1951
Alice Pike Barney, painter, donates part of her collection, which is the foundation for an extensive lending program established by Natalie Clifford Barney and Mrs. Laura Dreyfus-Barney; and her Sheridan Circle studio home is later donated for conferences (1960)
August 24, 1954
Ruel P. Tolman dies
1957
Old Patent Office Building, scheduled for demolition, is granted by President Eisenhower to the NCFA and Portrait Gallery
1962
NCFA and Portrait Gallery transferred to new home
1965-1968
David W. Scott is Director of the NCFA
May 6, 1968
NCFA officially opens in the Old Patent Office Building
1969
Robert Tyler Davis becomes Interim Director of NCFA
1970-1979
Joshua C. Taylor is NCFA Director
1972
Renwick Gallery opened

Notes
SI Records

Using the Collection
Prefered Citation
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 311, National Collection of Fine Arts. Office of the Director, Records

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Holmes, William Henry, 1846-1933 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Tolman, Ruel P. (Ruel Pardee), 1878-1954 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Beggs, Thomas M. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Freer, Charles Lang, 1856-1919 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Abbot, C. G. (Charles Greeley), 1872-1973 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Adler, Cyrus, 1863-1940 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Rathbun, Richard, 1852-1918 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Ravenel, W. de C. (William de Chastignier), 1859-1933 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Walcott, Charles D. (Charles Doolittle), 1850-1927 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Wetmore, Alexander, 1886-1978 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mechlin, Leila, 1874-1949 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Levy, Florence N. (Florence Nightingale), 1870-1947 Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States National Museum Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pan American Union Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American Federation of Arts Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Pennsylvania Society of Miniature Painters Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Landscape Club Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Metropolitan State Art Contest Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Society of Washington Artists (Washington, D.C.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Carolina Art Association Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Mint Museum of Art Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Gallery of Art Commission Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Smithsonian Gallery of Art Commission Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Gallery of Art Advisory Committee Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
American art annual Title Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museums -- Administration Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art museums Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum directors Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Museum exhibits Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Black-and-white photographs Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Manuscripts Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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Washington, D.C.
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