National Museum Of American Art & National Portrait Gallery
Lonely Planet review for National Museum Of American Art & National Portrait Gallery
These inseparable Smithsonian museums are looking brilliant these days, thanks to a multi-million-dollar facelift. They share the 19th-century US Patent Office building, a neoclassical quadrangle that hosted Lincoln's second inaugural ball and a Civil War hospital. Walt Whitman based The Wound-Dresser upon his experiences as a volunteer nurse here ('The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand/I sit by the restless all the dark night…').
The Portrait Gallery's permanent collection contains more than 4000 images of known faces from all walks and eras of life. The presidential portraits are particularly notable. Look for Gilbert Stuart's famous Lansdowne portrait of George Washington and a carefree bust of a first-term Bill Clinton. The sports and performing arts paintings and photographs are also fascinating, such as one of Mickey Mantle watching Roger Maris hit another home run in the 1961 season.
The Museum of American Art's has the largest collection of American art, colonial to contemporary, in the world. The museum is a bit of a holding facility for the Smithsonian's 38,000-odd pieces of art, from sculpture to photography, folk art, crafts, prints and drawings. It is especially esteemed for its 19th-century collection of American Western art including nearly 400 pieces by George Catlin, known for his haunting portrayals of American Indians living on the Great Plains.