Artists have been coming to Washington since it became the seat of government in 1800. They came is search of lucrative commissions to paint presidents and politicians, and to decorate the new public buildings.
They still do.
Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull came, painted portraits and murals and left. Constantin Brumidi won the coveted commission to paint the Capitol dome and stayed. Daniel Chester French, who carved Lincoln's magnificent memorial statue, commuted.
During the Civil War, artist-illustrators like Winslow Homer poured in to report on the Army of the Potomac and the battlefields of nearby Maryland and Virginia. Photographer Mathew Brady -- world renowned in New York as "Brady of Broadway" -- came to Washington, set up shop on Pennsylvania Avenue and lost his shirt.
Life quieted down in Washington until the rainbow of Color Painters took form in the late 1950s. Since then, museums, artist-run spaces and commercial galleries have been booming; citizens and corporations have both grown more artconscious and have begun to collect.
Whatever the changes, artists continue to come to Washington to seek their fortunes. The following are some of the many who have made their mark here: Gilbert Stuart 1755-1828
Gilbert Stuart was the foremost portraitist in America when he came to the new capital for a two-year stay in 1803. His 1796 portraits of George and Martha Washington, painted in Philadelphia, were widely known, so commissions came easily. James and Dolley Madison sat for him, as did Thomas Jefferson. The going rate per portrait: $100. Charles Bird King 1785-1862
Charles Bird King was the first true resident artist of Washington. After studies with Benjamin West in England, he was an itinerant artist in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Richmond before settling in Washington in 1818. He remained here until his death.
From his home at 12th and F Streets NW, King worked on his many portraits of visiting Indian chiefs, including the first delegation of Pawnee Indians to come to Washington in 1821. Many of the portraits were lost in the Smithsonian fire of 1865, but one hangs in the White House.
King also painted leading statesmen of his day, but is most fondly remembered for his trompe - l'oeil paintings dealing with the futility of the artist's life. "The Poor Artist's Cupboard" is one of the Corcoran's gems. Constantin Brumidi 1805-1880
Born in Rome, Constantin Brumidi began his decorating career by painting frescoes in the Vatican. A political refugee, he came to America in 1852, settled in Washington and received his first commission, "Cincinnatus at the Plough," for the agricultural committee room of the Capitol.He proudly signed his work: "C. Brumidi, artist, citizen of the United States."
Despite constant sniping from those who thought only native-born Americans should have such commissions, Brumidi was to spend the rest of his life (at $10 per day) decorating the Capitol with murals and frescoes. His most famous work is the giant "Apotheosis of Washington" in the eye of the dome. "My one ambition," he said, "is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on earth in which there is liberty."
Laboring 58 feet above Capitol floor at age 75, Brumidi slipped from his chair on the scaffolding. He hung from a ladder for 15 minutes before being rescued, but died a few months later. Congress paid to bury him, but in an unmarked grave in Glenwood Cemetery. Nearly a century later, Congress appropriated money for a bronze marker. Brumidi's work was finished by Alyn Cox, who died this year. Emanuel G. Leutze 1816-1868
Emanuel G. Leutze was a historical painter best remembered for one of the great cliches in American art: "Washington Crossing the Delaware." Born in Germany, Leutze lived in Philadelphia as a child and came to Washington in 1837 to sketch a series of portraits of great statesmen for a publishing venture that failed. In 1841 he went to study in Dusseldorf, where he remained for two decades.
Returning to America with a major commission from the House of Representatives to paint their famous mural, "Westward the Course of Empire," Leutze was to spend his last decade between New York and Washington, where he died.
Mathew Brady, America's first great photographer, saw the newfangled camera as "the eye of history." In 1849 -- after great success as a portrait daguerreotypist in New York -- he opened a studio on Pennsylvania Avenue, with the idea of capturing the portraits of people in the political hub. It was from there he set out with teams of photographers to record -- at his own expense -- the tragedy of the Civil War.
By 1873, he had spent $100,000 on the Civil War project and went bankrupt. Two years later Congress purchased his 5,712 glassplate negatives -- and clear title to them -- for $27,500, which kept the studio going for a while, but foreclosure finally shut it down in 1881.
For the last 15 years of his life, Brady worked for others, and he died in a charity ward in New York. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington. Augustus Vincent Tack 1870-1949
Augustus Vincent Tack was a high-born society portraitist and bon vivant who earned more than $100,000 in one year of the Great Depression by painting the rich and powerful. But it was the abstract paintings with their flat, floating areas of color and touches of gold -- which he rarely sold -- that have earned him his place in American art history.
Duncan Phillips bought 28 of those paintings and hung them in his gallery. He also commissioned Tack to paint several works for the music room of the Phillips Collection, all said to have inspired Morris Louis and other Washington Color Painters.
Though Tack did not live here full time, he kept a pied-a-terre at the La Salle apartments. When Phillips opened his gallery, Tack was named to the first board of directors. In the 1940s, he was commissioned to paint the spectacular fire curtain that still decorates the stage at Lisner Auditorium -- a most daring enterprise at the time.
The first graduate of the Howard University fine arts department, Alma Thomas spent 35 years teaching art at Shaw Junior High before turning her efforts when she was in her 60s to her own work -- joyous abstrations filled with dots of floating color.
Her talent was recognized in her lifetime by the Whitney Museum in New York and the National Museum of American Art, though the latter retrospective came about after her death. By the terms of her will, the NMAA now owns several of Thomas' paintings, and an art gallery in her name has been established at Shaw Junior High.
Felix de Weldon created the only sculpture ever built in homage to a photograph: the Iwo Jima Memorial. Born in Vienna, Austria, De Weldon studied in Europe before settling into his Northeast Washington studio in 1945, a towering space that had once been used by sculptors and architects working on the new federal city.
De Weldon, now in his 70s, has completed a total of 33 bronze monuments in Washington, and 1,200 others all over the world, including the national monument of Malaysia and only monument in the Antarctic, a bronze statue of Admiral Byrd. Current projects include a Vietnam memorial for the Quantico Marine Base and a recreation of the "Colossus of Rhodes," commissioned for Greece, that will be 16 feet taller than the Statute of Liberty. Jacob Kainen 1909-
A Washingtonian since 1942, Jacob Kainen is the dean of artists here, and a beloved teacher, mentor and Renaissance man. As print curator of the Smithsonian, he formed one of the city's great graphics collections, then did it all over again for the National Museum of American Art. He is also a peerless collector, printmaker and critic.
But Kainen cares most about his painting, and since his retirement from the Smithsonian in the early 1970s, he's been doing the best work of his life. In recent years he has been honored by exhibitions at the National Museum of American Art and the Phillips, as well as throughout the country.
Morris Louis died too young to know it, but he put Washington on the 20th century art map. Only five years before his death, after an unsuccessful career making abstractions in the Jackson Pollock style, he suddenly burst forth with the veils and stripes of pure color -- poured and soaked into unsized canvas -- that gave the Washington Color School its name and impetus.
He was inspired -- or so the legend goes -- by a look at a new stained canvas by Helen Frankenthaler -- "Mountains and Sea," now at the National Gallery. The subsequent work earned him not only a place in the history of modern painting, but a singular -- if posthumous -- honor for a Washington arist: a show at that museum. Louis sold only one of these large paintings during his lifetime. Last year, another sold at auction for $250,000.
Gene Davis is currently Washington's most successful painter, if fame and fortune are the measure. A native son, Davis learned to paint on his own, then began studies at the Washington Workshop, where he met Jacob Kainen (his acknowledged mentor) as well as Kenneth Noland and Leon Berkowitz, painter and founder of the workshop. His first show at the Dupont Theater Gallery in 1952 led Noland to invite him to show at Catholic University. The work was abstract expressionist in nature. The stripes began in 1958.
Since then, Davis has stuck with the vertical stripe format -- sometimes thin stripes, sometimes fat, always in an endless array of moods. There is scarcely a corporate boardroom in Washington -- or New York -- that does not have a Davis stripe on its walls. As a teacher at the Corcoran, he has inspired dozens of younger artists, and continues to do so.
Born in North Carolina, Kenneth Noland now lives in Vermont. But from 1949 until 1962, he lived and taught in Washington, and it was here that he made his mark. He and Morris Louis, a fellow teacher at the Washington Workshop, saw the Frankenthaler work together. They then began to make the abstract paintings that gave the Washington Color School its name.
He added his own twist: hard-edge, geometric forms-notably targets and chevrons that inspired the second generation of Washington Color Painters such Paul Reed, Tom Downing and Howard Mehring, who were Noland students at Catholic University. He also acknowleges his debt to this city: "I learned from Washington," he says, "from the Phillips and the Freer and the National Gallery of Art. And from the painters too: Joe Summerford, Bob Gates, Jacob Kainen and Bill Calfee."
In 1977, Noland was honored here with a joint retrospective at the Corcoran Gallery and the Hirshhorn Museum. Last year, one of his works set a new record for a price of painting by a living American: $300,000. Sam Gilliam 1933-
Sam Gilliam is a protean painter and colorist who came to Washington in 1962, devloped a distinctive stain and drip technique under the influence of the Washington Color Painters, and subsequently soared to international prominence.
Born in Tupelo, Miss., Gilliam studied at the University of Louisville and had his first Washington show -- figurative paintings and water-colors -- at Adams Morgan Gallery in 1963. Two years later, he began showing striped color-field paintings at Jefferson Place Gallery, and in 1967 exhibited the first stain paintings, which were to become his signature. That same year he had his first big break: a solo show at the Phillips. After Walter Hopps' 1969 Corcoran show featuring Gilliam, Rockne Krebs and Ed McGowin (now of New York), Gilliam's reputation was made. His works, which never cease to change and grow, are not included in museums all over the world. Rockne Krebs 1938-
Rockne Krebs is one of Washington's most inventive artists. Where others use paint and clay, he bends sunbeams through faceted lucite, and pierces the night sky along the Mall or across the Potomac with laser beams.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., Krebs came to Washington in 1964 as an officer in the Navy and began to show plexiglass sculpture at Jefferson Place Gallery in 1967. In 1969 he was included in Walter Hopps' show of leading new talent at the Corcoran. A National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1970, a Guggenheim in 1972 and a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts in 1973 allowed him to continue his pioneer work with leaser-light sculpture.
Though there are no permanent installations in Washington, he has executed permanent laser and light installations in California, Florida and Georgia. He is currently working on a sunlight piece for the new Baltimore mass-transit system.