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.


The 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 AA/PG 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 (

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 fall within a general theme “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 Smithsonian Libraries actively collects artists’ books through purchase and donation, and depends on the generosity of individuals to enrich the resources available to our community. Please consider supporting the Smithsonian Libraries Artists’ Books Collection through a donation to the Smithsonian Libraries and select "Artists’ Books Fund" from the drop-down menu.  

The AA/PG Library owns the Ferdinand Perret collection which includes 169 notebooks on California artists and 152 notebooks on art activities in Los Angeles from 1769 to 1942. These notebooks have been microfilmed by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art for their Washington, DC Headquarters collection and for their branch in California. The Perret collection also includes scrapbooks on California history and geography; clippings from San Francisco newspapers from 1926 to 1929, notebooks on California artists and art associations from 1840 to 1940, and references to more than 7,000 artists. This is a non-circulating collection and must be used on site.

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.

The AA/PG Library owns the source material for Daniel Turney Mallett’s Index of Artists (New York: Bowker, 1935) and its Supplement (New York, Bowker, 1940).

Guide to the Collections

The primary tool for searching the library’s holdings is the Smithsonian Libraries’ online catalog available through SIRIS, the Smithsonian Institution Research Information Service. This can be accessed on the Internet, via the World Wide Web ( All of the library’s holdings are cataloged here. It is suggested that outside researchers and the public wishing to visit the library review its holdings online first to determine if the books and journals they wish to use are included in the collection. The Smithsonian Libraries’ collections are also cataloged in OCLC (WorldCat).

Within the library, the books and journals are arranged according to the Library of Congress classification system. The stacks are open to those with a valid Smithsonian Institution badge. Assistance is available upon request. Orientation to new or visiting patrons and assistance to all users are provided.

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. Materials on the American Indian are collected at AA/PG, as well as at the Anthropology Library, the National Museum of the American Indian, 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.