American Art and Portrait Gallery Library

The AA/PG Library Collections

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, and A/V material. 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. Numerous notable individuals and institutions have donated their ephemera files to supplement the AA/PG Art and Artist Files collection, including Col. Merl M. Moore, the Allentown Art Museum, the Art Students League of New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In addition, the “Living Portrait Artists File” is incorporated into the collection, which contains biographical information and examples of work from recently active portrait artists. Individual artists’ names and museums, galleries, and associations can be searched 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 of the Smithsonian's 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 the “American Story” 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 Artists' Books 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 AA/PG Library has a large number of Cartoon and Caricature books, which includes general collections and rare titles, many still with their original book jackets. Currently numbering over 600 volumes, this growing collection has a strong focus on the works by American artists - the oldest dating to the Civil War period.

The Smithsonian Libraries and Archives holds one of the most complete public collections of Arion Press publications on the East Coast, in large part due to a significant donation in 2021. Arion produces limited edition fine press books, printed and bound by hand, and in close collaboration with contemporary artists and authors. One can see all of the Libraries and Archives' Arion Press works in our catalog, and read more about the donation on our blog.

The AA/PG Library maintains an extensive collection of auction catalogs from American houses or sales containing works primarily by American artists. These are not fully cataloged, but researchers looking to access auction catalogs such as Sotheby's, Parke Bernet, Christie's, Anderson Art Galleries, Bonham's, Doyle, Swann, Weschler's, Plaza, or others, can contact the library staff for more information.  The Smithsonian Libraries Research Annex maintains a large collection of international art auction sales, and researchers can contact SLRA directly to find out more. 

History of the AA/PG 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”. Acknowledged as an individual department of the Smithsonian Institution in 1906, the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art was officially recognized as a separate bureau in 1920, and its fine arts library as a separate branch of the library system.

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.  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”. When the Renwick Gallery became a part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1972, the Library began to collect in the area of American crafts, as well, in order to support the work of the Renwick Gallery staff. 

The AA/PG Library celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020, and in 2021, the Library underwent a renovation to its public spaces as well as several collections storage spaces, recasting our essential, heavily-used library for a 21-century audience, and continuing to protect our vital collections. Please have a look at the digital proposal to glimpse into AA/PG’s collections and the impact they have across the arts community, and see the full scope of the project here.

AAPG Library PeriodicalsComplementary Collections

The AA/PG Library is the largest of five art libraries within the Smithsonian Libraries. The others are the Freer/Sackler, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (HMSG), Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library (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 international 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 libraries across the Smithsonian, 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.

Support the AA/PG Library

You can support the library, and the research done at the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Archives of American Art, by donating online or Adopting a Book

Please see the Smithsonian Libraries' Gift-in-Kind Policy for information on book donations.