American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library


The Smithsonian American Art Museum/ National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG) grew out of the Smithsonian’s National Museum, later known as the “National Gallery of Art”. In 1937 the Andrew Mellon gift of art was given to the nation, and the National Gallery of Art became the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA). The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) was established in 1962 by an act of Congress. The NPG began with a group of paintings of important world figures exhibited in the Smithsonian immediately after World War I. Additional portraits were transferred from other museums at the Smithsonian. When plans were underway for the new National Portrait Gallery in 1964, the NCFA library collections were combined with those for the new Gallery. This was particularly appropriate since the NPG and NCFA were to share the Old Patent Office Building. The Library collection was then developed to reflect the missions of the two museums with strong holdings in American art, as well as American history and biography. In 1980, the NCFA was renamed the “National Museum of American Art”; then in 2000 it became the “Smithsonian American Art Museum”. The Renwick Gallery is a part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The AA/PG Library collects in the area of American crafts, as well, in order to support the work of the Renwick Gallery staff.


To support the research of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Archives of American Art, the AA/PG Library collection of 180,000 books, exhibition catalogs, catalogues raisonnes, serials and dissertations is concentrated in the area of American art, history, and biography with supportive materials on European art. The Library also contains artists’ books, ephemeral materials, auction catalogs, scrapbooks, microforms, CD-ROM’s and electronic links to other information resources. All can be located through the Smithsonian Libraries’ online catalog ( Specific information for using AA/PG Library resources can be found on the Using the AA/PG Library page.

Special Collections

The Art and Artist Files of the AA/PG Library are a particularly rich resource. There are over 150,000 files of ephemeral materials on art, artists, art institutions, collectors, and special subjects. These collections have been maintained for over 50 years and include the type of materials that is often difficult to obtain in traditional library collections. Individual artists’ names in the collection can be found using the Smithsonian Libraries’ online database for the Art and Artist Files. This is a non-circulating collection and must be used on site.

The Smithsonian Libraries Artists' Books Collection includes artists' books from many branches of the Smithsonian Libraries. Artists’ books are works of art, like paintings or sculptures, but in book form, and the AA/PG Library maintains a collection of several hundred. The artists’ books are collected within a general theme of “American Stories; American Lives,” to fit within the American Art and Portrait/Biography aims of the museums’ collections. They are primarily by American artists and include a variety of formats such as handmade and limited-edition books, autobiographical stories, and mass-market or conceptual works. Browse the AA/PG collection.

The AA/PG Library owns several individual ephemeral collections from various art historians and organizations. The Ferdinand Perret collection includes notebooks on California artists, art activities, history and geography from 1769 to 1942. The Joseph A. Baird Jr. clipping collection includes research material and clippings related to American and California artists. The Theodore Bolton collection consists of research drawings and clippings relating to the art historian's published and unpublished works on American art. The AA/PG Library owns the source material for Daniel Turney Mallett’s Index of Artists and its Supplement.

The AA/PG Library has materials from the Harmon Foundation, including many rare original exhibition catalogs from the 1920s prizes for African American artists, numerous books as well as Art & Artist Files for the Foundation and many of the Harmon winners, in addition to archival material donated to the library when the Foundation closed.

The “Living Portrait Artists File” is a collection of binders containing biographical information and examples of work from portrait artists living and working now. Researchers may consult this resource on site.

Complementary Collections

The AA/PG Library is one of five art libraries within the Smithsonian Libraries. The others are the Freer/Sackler, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (HMSG), Cooper Hewitt (CHM), and the National Museum of African Art (AFA) libraries. The AA/PG Library and the HMSG both collect in the area of contemporary art, although the HMSG collection has more material on European art than does AA/PG. The National Museum of American History (NMAH) Library collects in the areas of graphic art, photography, furniture, the decorative arts, and architecture. However, the emphasis at NMAH is often on the technical aspects of these topics, whereas AA/PG concentrates on the aesthetics. Both AA/PG and the CHM collect materials on design; the collection at CHM, however, is more international in its coverage while AA/PG covers more American art and design. The field of African American history, art and culture is represented at many branches across the Smithsonian Libraries, including AA/PG, the African American History and Culture Library, the Anacostia Community Museum Library, and NMAH. Materials on the American Indian are collected at AA/PG, as well as at the Anthropology Library, the National Museum of the American Indian Library, the NMAH, and the Dibner Library. As the AA/PG Library supports the work of the conservators in SAAM and NPG with a core collection on art conservation, there is some overlap with the collection at the Museum Support Center Library.