"The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Private Patronage and Art Collecting," which opens on Nov. 3 at the National Gallery of Art, will pay extended homage to the British aristocracy and to the houses they inhabit and the precious things therein: the Rubens in the drawing room, the silver in the silver safe, the armor in the hall. Certainly the biggest art show of the season, it may also be the biggest this city has yet seen.

Its proportions are, well, regal. Its budget is enormous (it exceeds $1 million). So is its installation (its 700 objects will fill 35,000 square feet in the Gallery's East Building). So is its list of lenders. More than 200 houses -- among them Blenheim and Balmoral, Luton Hoo and Chatsworth -- will be among its lenders. The prince and princess of Wales, who will see it in November, grew up in such surroundings.

Contemporary artists -- Susan Rothenberg at the Phillips, Jonathon Borofsky at the Corcoran and Washington's Ellen MacDonald at the WPA -- will be given exhibitions here this season. Washington's museums will also offer visitors objects as diverse as old recordings of Duke Ellington (at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum), scores of paintings of Niagara Falls (at the Corcoran), new Italian art (at the Hirshhorn), and a 17th-century dagger made out of a meteor (at the Freer Gallery of Art). But despite such exhibitions, this fall might still be called the season of the photograph. The photography of surrealism, and that of the New York School, will be displayed at the Corcoran, which also has arranged a traveling exhibition of the photography of war. Meanwhile, the landscape photographs of the late Ansel Adams will be seen at the National Gallery, and two more photo shows will go on view at the National Museum of American Art.

Here are some of the exhibitions that will go on view this season in Washington's art museums: Anacostia Neighborhood Museum

The sudden blossoming of black show business and music, literature and art that is now remembered as the Harlem Renaissance (although its flowerings took place not only in Manhattan) is the subject of "The Renaissance: Black Arts of the Twenties" (Sept. 15 through 1986). Its paintings, sculptures, photographs, books, silent films and posters will address a variety of themes -- from the philosophy of Alain Locke to the dancers of "Hot Chocolates" (1929). Old recordings of Jelly Roll Morton and Duke Ellington also will be included, as will evocations of the famous nightclubs -- Small's Paradise, the Cotton Club -- where their music was performed. The Corcoran Gallery of Art

Three scholarly exhibits -- all arranged by the Corcoran and all accompanied by books -- go on view this month. The first surveys the photography of surrealism, the second the photography of war, and the third traces changes in the ways that artists have viewed Niagara Falls. You will have to pay to see them. The Corcoran this fall will begin imposing an admission charge ($1.50 for adults, 50 cents for senior citizens and students) on selected major shows.

Associate director Jane Livingston and Rosalind Krauss of Hunter College together organized "L'Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism" (Sept. 14-Nov. 17). Their exhibition, the first survey of its subject, will include more than 200 rare photographs, mostly French, from the '20s and the '30s; Man Ray, Rene' Magritte, Andre' Breton, Brassai, Dali and Andre' Kertesz are among the artists to be shown.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, scores of American painters, among them Frederick Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran and Thomas Cole traveled to Niagara, and their portrayals of the falls -- "the sublimest of sublimities" -- will be among the more than 250 objects included in "Niagara: Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697-1901" (Sept. 21-Nov. 24). Jeremy Adamson of the National Gallery of Canada, working with the Corcoran, curated the show.

Frances Fralin, a Corcoran assistant curator with a strong stomach, surveyed thousands of harsh photographs -- of shootings and beheadings and other scenes of mayhem -- before choosing the 200 she has included in "The Indelible Image: Photographs of War, 1846 to the Present," the first show of its kind. Fralin's exhibit will open Sept. 24 in Manhattan at the Grey Art Gallery of New York University and will then travel to Houston before opening at the Corcoran April 26.

The Corcoran this season also will display two additional photo shows -- "The New York School: Photographs 1935-1963, Part III," organized by Livingston and John Gossage (Oct. 26-Jan. 5) and "In the American West: Photographs by Richard Avedon" (Dec. 7-Feb. 16).

On Dec. 12, the Gallery will open "Jonathan Borofsky" (Dec. 12-Feb. 2), a traveling exhibit devoted to the New York artist who likes to express the "chatter" of his mind in endless lists of numbers and in quick and roughshod drawings, many of them huge. His show is another Corcoran exhibit for which you'll have to pay. The Freer Gallery of Art

The Freer Gallery of Art, which does not accept loans, will this month open two small shows, both of them exploring its permanent collection. "Ch'ing Dynasty Calligraphy and Paintings" (Sept. 6-Jan. 31) will include some 30 objects selected by Shen Fu of the Gallery's staff. "Islamic Metalwork From the Freer Collection" will offer detailed investigations of 38 pieces of brass and gold and silver, among them ewers, basins, bowls and a 17th-century dagger whose blade was made out of a meteor at the command of a Mughal emperor. The Hirshhorn Museum ----

"A New Romanticism: Sixteen Artists From Italy" (Oct. 3-Jan. 5) is the first American museum show to focus on the allegorical, romantic strain in new Italian painting. Former Hirshhorn curator Howard Fox, now curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, picked the 46-object exhibit, whose best-known artists are Enzo Cucchi and Sandro Chia.

"Selections From the Collection of Marion and Gustave Ring" (Oct. 17-Jan. 12) will include 50 objects purchased by the Washington collectors, both of whom died in 1983. Degas, Monet, Redon, the German Expressionists Nolde and Kirchner, and Frank Stella are among the artists they collected. Theirs is only the second private collection displayed at the Hirshhorn. The first was that of the late Joseph H. Hirshhorn, who founded the museum. National Air and Space Museum

Two exhibits -- offering different views of space -- go on view this month. "Sightseeing: A Space Panorama" (Sept. 6-Oct. 25) includes 28 large photographs, all taken by American astronauts in space. "John Safer: Sculptor" (Sept. 12-Oct. 25) will include 13 pieces of Lucite, bronze, steel and stone, by the Washington artist whose "Web of Space" has been selected as the National Air and Space Museum trophy. The National Gallery of Art

It should not be surprising that the National Gallery of Art -- a museum long responsive to the high standards and affections of anglophile Paul Mellon -- has picked the English country house as the subject of the most ambitious show it's ever done. "The Treasure Houses of Britain: Five Hundred Years of Patronage and Art Collecting" (Nov. 3-March 16) will fill the mezzanine and upper levels of the gallery's East Building. Among the exhibition's 700 objects will be paintings by Holbein, Gainsborough, Rubens, Van Dyck and Velazquez; sculpture by Praxiteles, Bernini and Canova; suits of armor, tapestries, porcelains and jewels, silver furniture and books. Although the exhibit will include a Chippendale doll house filled with tiny furniture, textiles and silver, some most important objects will be missing from the show: These are, of course, the full-size palaces and houses from which its objects come. To evoke their stately presences, curator Gervase Jackson-Stops, and Gil Ravenal and Mark Leithauser of the gallery's design staff, have created 17 grand rooms in as many historical styles. The first is Tudor, the last Edwardian. Though housemaids, footmen, cooks, gamekeepers and butlers also will be absent, photographs and films included in the show will attempt to give the visitor a small taste of the hard work -- and the luxuries -- of British country life.

Although the country house show will dominate the coming season at the National Gallery, other shows of interest will be displayed there as well. These include:

*"Modern German Prints and Drawings From the Jacob and Ruth Kainen Collection" (Sept. 22-Feb. 9). Few Washington artists are as highly respected as Jacob Kainen. Though widely known as an abstract painter, an art scholar and encourager, Kainen collects, too. The gallery's exhibit will include approximately 100 sheets, mostly German Expressionist pictures, acquired by the painter and his wife.

*"Ansel Adams: Classic Images" (Oct. 6-Jan. 12). In addition to the 75-photograph "museum set" printed by the artist in the last years of his life, the exhibit will include a group of large-scale photographs, mural prints and folding screens borrowed from Adams' widow.

*"Durer to Delacroix: Great Master Drawings from Stockholm" (Oct. 27-Jan. 5). This distinguished loan show will include 118 drawings -- eight by Rembrandt, five by Watteau and three each by Delacroix and Rubens -- all borrowed from Sweden's Nationalmuseum; fewer than a dozen of its pictures have been seen before in the United States.

*"The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886" (Jan. 17-April 6). It will open after New Year's, but its artists are so famous and its paintings are so popular that this ambitious loan show is already much discussed. It will survey the eight Impressionist exhibits organized in Paris between 1874 and 1886. Its 150 paintings will include well-known works by Monet, Degas, Ce'zanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Cassatt as well as less familiar canvases by Cals, Desboutin and Rouart. Museum of American Art

This season the museum will draw most of its exhibitions from its permanent collection. They include:

*"Photographs From the Permanent Collection" (Sept. 13-March 9), which will offer 125 images collected by the museum in the past two years. The show contains some images by Edward Weston and Helen Levitt from the '30s and the '40s, but most of its photographs were made in the last 10 years. These include works by Berenice Abbott, Gary Winogrand, Larry Fink, Robert Mapplethorpe and Washington's John Gossage.

*"Art, Design, and the Modern Corporation: The Collection of Container Corporation of America, a Gift to the National Museum of American Art" (Oct. 24-Jan. 19). Those who remember "Great Ideas of Western Man: One of a Series" will recognize many of these 150 pictures, most of them commissioned for the corporation's soft-sell ad campaign. The artists represented include Herbert Bayer, Joseph Cornell, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, Rene' Magritte and Jacob Lawrence.

*"Focusing on Art" (Nov. 22-May 4). The museum's Peter A. Juley & Son collection includes 127,000 photographs, from which 30 have been chosen for this show. Among them are pictures of such lost works of art as Robert Henri's portrait of Bernard Baruch and Edward Hopper's "Corn Belt City" (both ruined in fires) and William Glackens' "Lena With Rabbits" (destroyed in a train wreck).

*"Conversations With Another World: Romaine Brooks in the National Museum of American Art" (Nov. 29-March 23). The exhibit will include 37 drawings, most of them fantasies, by the expatriate American artist who died at the age of 96 in 1971.

*"The Graphic Work of George Elbert Burr" (Dec. 13-April 13). Burr, who died in 1939, was known as "the etcher of the American desert." The 75 etchings and drawings in the exhibition have been chosen from the 250 owned by the National Museum of American Art. National Portrait Gallery

Though the sculptor Gaston Lachaise (1882-1935) is best remembered for his voluptuous female nudes, he also was a portraitist of high skill. "Gaston Lachaise: Portrait Sculptures" (Nov. 22-Feb. 16) will include more than 60 likenesses of, among others, John Marin and e.e. cummings.

"Private Lives of Public Figures: The 19th-Century Family Print" (Sept. 6-April 13) will include approximately 20 popular images of Lincoln, Grant, the Garfields and other famous folk at home. The Phillips Collection

"Susan Rothenberg" (Sept. 19-Nov. 17) will bring to the Phillips some 14 recent canvases by the highly regarded New York painter.

"Works on Paper: French Drawings" (Nov. 23-Jan. 12) is the third in a series of shows all exploring the Phillips' permanent collection and all funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Among its 60 objects will be images by Degas, Delacroix, Dufy, Manet, Matisse, Renoir, Seurat and van Gogh.

The late James McLaughlin was one of many artists employed by the museum. "The James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show" (Dec. 7-Jan. 5) will include objects -- all for sale -- by artists now on staff.

"Lyonel Feininger: Early Works" (Dec. 14-Feb. 9) will include 47 pictures by the American-born cubist and cartoonist who spent much of his working life in Germany. The exhibition, arranged in association with the Acquavella Galleries of New York, follows a 14-year effort to retrieve some of the paintings that Feininger (1871-1956) left behind when he fled the Nazis in 1937. WPA

The Washington Project for the Arts will open the fall season with three solo exhibitions. The artists to be shown are Washington painter Ellen MacDonald, California sculptor Gordon Woods and installation artist Barbara Sexton, who recently moved from Los Angeles to Washington. All three shows will be on view from Sept. 14 to Oct. 19.

In late September, the WPA will hold its Seventh Annual Open Studio. Some 300 local artists have agreed to participate by opening their studios from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Virginia studios will open Sept. 21, Maryland studios Sept. 22, downtown Washington studios Sept. 28, and uptown Washington studios Sept. 29. Free maps giving their locations are available at the WPA.

"Contemporary Russian Art: A Survey of Unofficial Activities" (Oct. 19-Nov. 1) will offer recent Russian pictures, most from the collection of Washington's Norton Dodge. On Nov. 1 at 8 p.m., Komar and Melamid, the e'migre' painters now living in New York, will appear at the WPA to discuss their works, a selection of which will be included in the show.