Day Tour

America's Collection, the National Gallery of Art (3 Hours)

Context Travel

Washington, DC United States

Valid for Travel Now Through: 30 Mar 2019

America's Collection, the National Gallery of Art (3 Hours )

Washington, DC United States

Tour Features


  • Culture, History & Arts
  • Sightseeing



Recommended Ages

12 and Above

Activity Level



Created with a gift from the financier and art collector, Andrew W. Mellon, the National Gallery of Art opened its doors in 1941 as a museum devoted to the people of the United States of America. Mr. Mellon believed that the nation deserved its own collection, open and free to the public. His gift financed the construction of the original (West) building, as well as the paintings and sculpture that formed the basis of the exceptional collection the Gallery boasts today. This three-hour tour of the National Gallery explores the collections of the West Building in the company of an art historian. We will learn about some of the the Gallery’s most prized and adored works by artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Jan van Eyck and JMW Turner, as well as uncovering hidden gems along the way.

We begin our time together at the base of the steps of the West Building facing the National Mall with a discussion of the founding of the Gallery and an examination of the building itself to help situate us. Inside, we will turn our attention to the topic of philanthropy and the arts in the early 20th century with the Founders Room and portraits of the Gallery’s earliest benefactors as our visual textbook. We will discuss the early vision of these generous individuals- a vision to bring the United States a collection with the prominence of other national collections such as the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in London.

As we move through the galleries of the West Building, we will experience the National Gallery’s earliest masterworks – the Italian 13th- and 14th-century works up through much of its 19th-century collections of American art. We will have the chance to explore everything from Dutch and Flemish 17th-century paintings – exquisite still-lifes, stunning portraits, and remarkable landscapes – to visceral scenes created by American Realists of the 19th century – boxing rings and gritty urban settings. Using these works as our visual textbook, we'll learn about the development of the major genres of western art, such as portraiture, still-life, and landscape. We will also delve into the national art schools, allowing for a solid, yet broad, look at the how they engage with one another, but also developed with relation to local causes and values.

The new sculpture galleries- vaulted rooms with large windows allowing plenty of natural light- will illuminate our transition from the two-dimensional world of painting to these three-dimensional treasures. Here we will examine art from the Middle Ages through the early twentieth century, works ranging from sculpture to decorative arts of the Renaissance and eighteenth-century France, Italian Renaissance medals and plaquettes, and Chinese porcelains.

By the end of our time together we will have seen some of the most outstanding works in the history of western art – works cited again and again as the pinnacles of beauty and craftsmanship. We will also have a greater understanding of the goals of creating a collection for the nation and how that collection has evolved in the 70 years of the Gallery’s history.

About Us

The Context vision is to create an atmosphere—a context, if you will—for curious travelers to engage with local experts; to give them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight to the casual visitor; to invite them off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and heritage that make these cultural capitals amazing. With no more than six people, you'll participate in an intimate, hands-on, conversational experience. No Tour Guides - Our docents are first and foremost scholars or specialists, with MAs, Ph.D.s, or other terminal degrees in their fields of study.

Insider Tip

Contact your Virtuoso Travel Advisor for insider knowledge to help enhance your experience.

Terms & Conditions

Context walks can be cancelled up to 48 hours prior to the walk with an 85% refund. Within 48 hours all reservations are final and cannot be refunded. Walks are held rain or shine with some variations to accommodate the weather. If you are running late for your meeting with our docent, we ask that you call to alert us so that we can relay the message to the docent. No shows are treated as last-minute cancellations and are non-refundable. Cancellations within three business days need to be made by phone to the emergency number provided in your confirmation email. Cancellations within three business days made via email or by calling our U.S. 800 number may not be honored. Other terms and conditions may apply.

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Italy trip

By: Joe C

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2018

Without question they did a superb job.
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"The Great European Tour"

By: MJ

Reviewed on: 14 Aug 2018

The trip was our first experience with Context and it was amazing!
Travel Advisor:  Donna Peacock
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By: Shari

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2018

The 6 person maximum of Context tours really made for an intimate learning experience. The docents they get to lead the groups were top notch!
Travel Advisor:  Kelly Millington