Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Visit to the Smithsonian

Ginevra De Benci', Oil on Panel, 1474-8,Leonardo Da Vinci
On my bucket list of places to visit was the Smithsonian Institution. So I finally went last month. The Smithsonian in itself is interesting, but so is the story of how it came about. James Smithson was the illegitimate son of an English Duke. He was a brilliant scientist and inherited and maintained his mother's wealth during his life. The English parliament refused to give James his father's title because of his illegitimacy. So when he died in 1829, his only heir, his nephew, had passed away also without heirs. Out of anger with the English government, Smithson stipulated in his will that if there were no surviving heirs, his fortune was to be sent to the new democracy, the United States of America for "an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men," in Washington to be named the Smithsonian Institution.

Against the will of my family I was able to visit the National Art Gallery, West Building and the National Portrait Gallery. I missed some other art museums and the East Building of the NAG which houses 20th century artists like Georgia O'keefe and Norman Rockwell. But with so much to see at the Smithsonian, I saw a fair amount.