History of Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design
The Corcoran Gallery of Art was founded in 1869 by William Wilson Corcoran as a private institution dedicated to art and to be “used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius.” Corcoran deeded the original gallery building, which is today the Renwick Gallery, and a private collection valued at $100,000 to nine members of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees. The Corcoran opened to the public in 1874. As early as the 1870s, semi-formal lessons were offered by artists in the gallery. In 1878, W.W. Corcoran donated additional funds to the institution to found an art school associated with the gallery.
In 1891, the Board of Trustees decided that the Gallery had outgrown the original building and purchased a lot at 17th Street and New York Avenue. The new building, designed by architect Ernest Flagg, opened in 1897 and housed both the Gallery and the School. In 1925, the Board accepted former trustee Montana Senator William Andrews Clark’s collection of art, and in 1926 they approved plans for construction of a new wing to house the Clark collection. The Clark Wing, designed by architect Charles A. Platt, opened in 1928.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art was a major center of historic and contemporary American art, with a permanent collection of 18th, 19th, and 20th century American art. The bequest of the Clark collection greatly enhanced the Corcoran’s holdings of European art. In addition to displaying the permanent collection, the Corcoran also encouraged modern American artists by showing and purchasing their work, paying particular attention to artists in the Washington area.
The Corcoran School of Art continued to grow and develop structured programs throughout the 20th century and received its first accreditation status in 1971, when it was granted Division III membership in the National Association of Schools of Art (NASA). In 1976, NASA granted the School full membership in Division I. The Corcoran School received accreditation as a four-year college from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools in 1985. In 1999, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the Corcoran’s art school from the “Corcoran School of Art” to the “Corcoran College of Art and Design,” often stylized as the Corcoran College of Art + Design.
In 2014, the Corcoran Gallery of Art ceased operations and was dissolved by the Board of Trustees. The Board’s plan split the Gallery’s collection and the School of Art. The National Gallery acquired, or had first rights to, the art collection, while George Washington University acquired The Corcoran College of Art and Design and the Flagg-designed Corcoran Gallery building.
In August 2014, the Corcoran College of Art and Design was integrated into George Washington University and is now known as the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design within GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
In 2018, as part of the agreement with the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Board of Trustees announced that 10,862 works of art would be freely distributed to museums in D.C. and around the country, with 99%, or 10,753 works, remaining in Washington, D.C., and 8,631 works going to the National Gallery of Art.
William Wilson Corcoran commissions architect James Renwick, Jr., to design a public museum to display his collection of American art. This building is the first in the United States designed expressly as an art museum.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art (today the Renwick Gallery) is erected at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
August 22: The United States Army seizes the unfinished Corcoran Gallery of Art building for use as a warehouse to store records and uniforms for the Quartermaster General’s Corps.
The United States returns control of The Renwick Gallery to W.W. Corcoran.
May 10: W.W. Corcoran deeds the building and grounds and a private collection valued at $100,000 to the nine members of a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees.
The Corcoran Board of Trustees proposes and approves bylaws.
Congress passes the Gallery’s Act of Incorporation.
January 19: The Corcoran Gallery opens to the public.
The Board of Trustees holds its First Annual Meeting.
The Board adopts its first set of regulations governing copyists.
Eliphalet F. Andrews, a local artist, begins free informal instruction to copyists.
W.W. Corcoran donates $2,123.27 for the establishment of a “School of Design.”
E.F. Andrews is elected instructor in drawing for the Gallery (his title is later changed to Principal).
W.W. Corcoran dies, giving a bequest of $100,000 to the Gallery for a free art school.
The Corcoran School of Art building formally opens with two instructors and forty students.
April 18: The Trustees, finding that the gallery has outgrown the Renwick building, purchase a lot a few blocks south at 17th Street and New York Avenue.
June: Ground is broken at 17th Street New York Avenue for a new Beaux-Arts building, designed by architect Ernest Flagg, to house both the museum and the school.
May 10: The cornerstone of the new Corcoran Gallery is laid on the 25th anniversary of W.W. Corcoran’s deeding the Gallery to the Board of Trustees.
February 22: The formal opening of the new Corcoran building, designed by Ernest Flagg and housing the Gallery and School, takes place with thousands of guests in attendance, including President Grover Cleveland.
February 24: The new Corcoran Gallery officially opens to the public.
The Washington Art League merges with the Corcoran School of Art.
The original Corcoran Gallery building, designed by James Renwick, Jr., is sold to the United States Government.
The Board resolves to purchase American paintings as the most appropriate method of fulfilling the obligation “to encourage American genius in the production and preservation of works pertaining to the Fine Arts,” as stated in the deed of gift.
The First Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings is proposed and approved.
The First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Painting takes place.
Montana Senator William Andrews Clark donates $100,000 to perpetuate the William A. Clark Prize Awards given during the Biennial.
July 31: The Board accepts the bequest of Senator William Andrews Clark’s collection of art.
October 25: The James Baird Co. is awarded the contract for construction of a new wing to house the Clark Collection.
December 10: The Clark family donates $700,000 for construction of the Clark Wing.
The Board approves plans and construction for the Clark Wing, designed by architect Charles A. Platt.
March 10: The formal opening of the Clark Wing takes place, with President Coolidge and the Clark family in attendance.
The Clark family donates a $400,000 endowment for upkeep and maintenance of the Clark Collection and Wing.
The Corcoran affiliates with BA/MFA program at George Washington University; the program is maintained for 35 years.
The First Area Show is held.
The Board authorizes the appointment of Harold F. Cross as the staff conservator, as well as the “necessary renovation and equipment” for a conservation laboratory.
A photography laboratory is established under Victor Amato.
An educational program for children is planned and carried out with the cooperation of the Washington Junior League.
The first registrar is hired.
The Women’s Committee forms to advance the Gallery as an educational and cultural institution.
The Women’s Committee holds its inaugural Annual Ball.
The Board issues a revised statement of the Gallery’s policy in conjunction with the Gallery’s 100th Anniversary.
The Friends of the Corcoran is established to add significant works of art by contemporary artists to the Gallery’s collection.
An art rental service opens.
A docent program begins.
The Education Department is formally organized and the first Curator is named.
Two-year certificate and four-year diploma programs are introduced.
The Washington Gallery of Modern Art merges with the Corcoran.
The Special Projects Department is formed, initially as an adjunct to the Education Department, and later as a special department.
The Extension Services Department is divided into the smaller departments of Development, Public Information, and Membership.
Implementation of a structured 4-year diploma program; the certificate program is no longer offered.
The Corcoran School is granted Division III membership in the National Association of School of Arts (NASA).
The Board of Trustees expands by the addition of elected Term Trustees.
The Art Rental Service is discontinued.
The Corcoran School is granted Division I candidacy status in the National Association of School of Arts (NASA).
The Board establishes the Washington Art Group for people from the Washington community having a particular interest in and appreciation for art.
The Corcoran School is granted Division I membership in the National Association of School of Arts (NASA).
The Cororan School is licensed by the National Association of School of Arts (NASA) and the District of Columbia to award BFA degrees.
The Corcoran Archives are established.
The Corcoran School is granted candidacy status in the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Corcoran's 4-year diploma is no longer offered. A one-year, part-time Fine Arts Certificate program is begun.
The Corcoran Alumni Club is formed.
The Corcoran School receives accreditation as a four-year college from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Corcoran officials cancel the planned retrospective "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment."
The entire Corcoran Gallery building, including the Clark Wing, is designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Visual Arts Community Outreach Program (VACOP) is established to provide free art classes, mentoring, and exposure for children and teenagers in Washington, D.C., communities.
The Corcoran acquires the Fillmore School building, a public school located at 1801 35th St., NW, from the D.C. government for use as space for The Corcoran College of Art + Design.
The Corcoran School of Art’s name officially changes to the Corcoran College of Art and Design, often stylized as “Corcoran College of Art + Design.”
The Gallery announces their selection of Architect Frank Gehry to design a new wing of the building.
The Corcoran cancels the planned Gehry expansion.
The Corcoran purchases the Randall School building from the D.C. government, with plans to develop the building for additional school facilities and as a community art space.
The Corcoran sells the Randall School property to a partnership of the D.C. development firm Telesis and art collectors Mera and Don Rubell's CACG Holdings.
The Corcoran opens the contemporary art space NOW. The permanent collection is reinstalled.
The Corcoran leases its adjacent property to Carr Properties, which controls the property through a long-term ground lease.
The Corcoran Board of Trustees considers selling its building and relocating.
August: The Save the Corcoran Coalition submits a petition to Corcoran leaders to explore other financially viable options.
The Board dissolves The Corcoran Gallery of Art. George Washington University acquires the Corcoran College of Art + Design, the Flagg building, and the Fillmore School building.
George Washington University sells the Fillmore School building to the S&R Foundation.
The D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board designates most of the Flagg building’s interior as historic.
The Board of Trustees announces that 10,862 works of art are to be freely distributed to museums in D.C. and around the country, with 99+%, or 10,753 works, remaining in Washington, D.C., and 8,631 pieces going to the National Gallery of Art.