The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington’s oldest privately owned art museum, opened in 1874 with a charge to encourage “American genius.” The ensuing decades included a new building and expansions, major additions to the collection and the establishment of the Corcoran College of Art and Design.
The Corcoran’s more recent history has been marked by turbulence and existential dilemmas about its mission, the viability of its historic Beaux-Arts building home and its attempts to become financially solvent. Wednesday’s announcement that the gallery and college would be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University marks the latest milestone in the often troubled Corcoran timeline of events.
1869 William Wilson Corcoran, a wealthy Washington businessman and philanthropist, founds the Corcoran Gallery of Art with holdings from his private collection, which included European works and an important collection of American art.
1874 The Corcoran Gallery of Art opens but soon outgrows its 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue location, which later houses the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.
1897 A new Beaux-Arts-style building on 17th Street, blocks from the White House, becomes home for the Gallery and its newly established art school. ↓
1925 William Andrews Clark, a Montana senator and industrialist, bequeaths his collection of European paintings, sculptures, tapestries, rugs and antiquities to the Corcoran. The Clark family donated funds for a new wing to house the collection, which opened in 1928.
1937 A bequest from Edward and Mary Walker that includes works by Renoir and Monet is added to the Corcoran collection.
↑ 1989 Corcoran officials cancel the planned retrospective “Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,” fearing backlash from Capitol Hill. The exhibition, partially financed with a National Endowment for the Arts grant, featured homoerotic and violent images. The firestorm it created, and the backlash against the Corcoran for its backing out, ushered in the culture wars.
1999 Plans for an addition by noted architect Frank Gehry are announced.
2005 The Corcoran cancels a $200 million planned expansion by Frank Gehry.↓
David Levy, the director, resigns.
2006 Paul Greenhalgh, president of an art college in Nova Scotia and former head of research at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, becomes director.
The Corcoran purchases the Randall School from the District as part of an expansion.
2007 “Modernism: Designing a New World, 1914-1939” draws 93,000 visitors. Other shows on Annie Leibovitz and Ansel Adams bring in crowds.
2009 The Corcoran closes for seven weeks for roof repairs. The museum also restores the facade on the 1897 building. The Corcoran announces 18 layoffs. Fred Bollerer becomes the chief operating officer.
January 2010 Spring enrollment at the college increases 17 percent.
February 2010 The Corcoran sells the former Randall School for $6.5 million.
April 2010 The Corcoran closes the exhibition “Turner to Cezanne” early because of problems with the climate control system.
May 2010 Paul Greenhalgh, the director, announces he is leaving. Bollerer, →
the chief operating officer, becomes director.
June 2010 The Corcoran ends its fiscal year with a $4 million deficit. September 2010 The Corcoran opens the contemporary art space NOW. The permanent collection is reinstalled and gallery space reclaimed.
December 2010 Kirk Pillow, the interim president of the College of Art and Design, announces his departure for the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The Corcoran announces that it is leasing its adjacent property for an office building project of Carr Properties. The Corcoran hires Lord Cultural Resources, an internationally known cultural strategy firm, to develop a plan for the future.
2011 Gallery attendance hits a seven-year low of about 85,000 visitors. The museum ends the fiscal year with a $7.2 million deficit.
June 2012 The Corcoran announces a possible sale of its building and sponsors community listening sessions.
August 2012 The Save the Corcoran Coalition submits a petition to leaders to explore other financially viable options.
October 2012 Historic preservationists nominate the Corcoran interior as an architectural landmark, possibly complicating the decision to sell.
2013 The Corcoran announces a plan to explore a partnership with University of Maryland. Fred Bollerer, director and president at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, retires. Peggy Loar becomes interim director and president.
2014 In a settlement with the estate of heiress Huguette Clark, the Corcoran is awarded $11.5 million and could receive additional millions from the sale of Clark’s “Nymphéas,” part of the famed “Water Lilies” series by Claude Monet.
February 2014 The Corcoran announces a proposed collaboration that would make the Corcoran College of Art and Design part of the George Washington University, which would also assume ownership of the Corcoran’s landmark building. The National Gallery will continue to use the space to organize art exhibitions.