Lonely Planet review
If you only visit one art museum in Washington, DC, make it this one, technically composed of two institutions. There is, simply put, no better collection of American art in the world. Collectively, these museums are known as the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The National Portrait Gallery is, in its way, a portrait of America, seizing and interpreting the nation’s visage by displaying her multiple faces throughout the ages. The Museum of American Art , on the other hand, exhibits the beauty and vision of those figures, the external aesthetic of the humanity so eloquently captured in the Portrait Gallery. Both occupy three floors in 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 top floor, which connects the two museums via the Gilded Age Patent Hall, is one of the most impressive spaces in the city. Above this massive collection are annex spaces and electronic archives for those wishing to delve deeper into the experience.