If you’ve never heard of Clara Peeters, a 16th-century Flemish painter of superbly rendered still-lifes; or Renaissance painter Lavinia Fontana; or Russian artist Sonia Delaunay, whose mastery of murals, theater sets, and ceramics led the Louvre in 1964 to choose her as its first living female artist to hold a retrospective there…it’s a shame, but not surprising, given the historical short shrift accorded women’s contributions to art. Here in D.C., we have an answer for that: the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where more than 1,000 works by women, 16th century to the present, are on display. Open since 1987, the museum remains the world’s only major museum solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative accomplishments.
Inside the white marble Renaissance Revival museum building, built as a Masonic temple in 1908, is a space so elegant it’s frequently in demand as a wedding reception venue. Some of the artwork is on display in the Grand Hall, but most exhibits are in upstairs galleries, accessed via the sweeping marble double stairways. Among the works from the permanent collection are those by Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, Helen Frankenthaler, Barbara Hepworth, Georgia O’Keeffe, Lilla Cabot Perry, and Elaine de Kooning. Most popular is Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, the only Frida Kahlo on view in Washington. The museum mounts several special exhibits annually, which from November 2, 2018, to February 10, 2019, includes “Rodarte,” showcasing the fashions of Southern California sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the first designers the NMWA has recognized in a solo show.
Also recommended is the museum’s gift shop, which sells clever little items like a Dorothy Parker martini glass. And if you’re hungry, have lunch in view of artworks at the Mezzanine Café (Mon–Fri 11am–2pm).