Over the centuries, Washington has evolved from a swampy backwater town to a sophisticated cultural destination. Museums and monumental architecture here are world-class with spacious light-filled galleries and exquisitely curated shows. Dozens of museums, galleries and public art spaces, most free, dot leafy streets and line the National Mall.
The art is impressive in quality and diversity, from Old Masters’ paintings to abstract bronze sculptures; from exquisite glass vessels to deeply carved woodwork; from imposing buildings to finely stitched tapestries.
Many museums are on the tourist circuit but I tempt you to veer off the beaten path to visit five lesser-known gems.
The personal collections of wealthy individuals often formed the crux of a new institution. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s collection in 1936 formed the National Gallery of Art; Duncan Phillips’ collection in 1921 The Phillips Collection; and David and Carmen Kreeger’s in the 1990’s is today’s Kreeger Museum, our first stop.
The Kreeger Museum is an unparalleled jewel hidden behind a stone wall on five acres of urban woods in the secluded but close-in residential Foxhall neighborhood.
Architect Philip Johnson completed this post-modernist glass and stone structure for the Kreegers in 1967. It was designed as a residence, a showcase for their 19th-and 20th-century collection of European and American art. He also designed an intimate performance space for concerts, which continue today.
Kreeger was a government official, former president and CEO of GEICO, and a local cultural icon. It was always his intention to donate his art collection.
Dubuffet and Bonnard; Braque and Chagall; a Calder mobile and Brancusi head; bronze panels along the staircase and an atrium of verdant tropical palms are all in my frame of vision as I step over the threshold.
One glass wall in the Monet Room overlooks a terrace of Arp, Lipchitz and Maillol sculptures. Three walls are covered with Monet’s fluid light and shimmering water scenes. In addition to these pieces in the permanent collection are works by Picasso, Kandinsky and Corot.
The building design is ingenious because from any vantage point you have a view of the outdoors.
On special exhibit until July 31 is the complete Kreeger collection of Joan Miró including The Mallorca Suite, a folio of three dozen etched engravings and aquatint in black and color hanging in four horizontal rows. Miró created these pieces in celebration of his 80th birthday in 1973, which the Kreegers attended.
The Textile Museum in the Dupont Circle neighborhood is a repository for more than 19,000 historical textiles, a selection of which are on display in low light, cool and humid-free galleries to protect the fragile fibers.
From ancient times through the Renaissance, hand-woven textiles were among the most valuable objects one could own. They conveyed prestige and wealth, so even fragments flaunt delicate stitches and beautiful color.
In celebration of the recent 100th Cherry Blossom Festival, exquisite Japanese ceremonial court robes and silks commissioned for the Imperial Household are on display in Woven Treasures of Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop until Aug.12. The luminescent luxury fabrics are decorated with hollyhocks, wisteria, stylized slices of melon and peonies in patterns, weaves and combinations of tangerine orange, teal gray, emerald green and snow white. They are gorgeous.