Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art board of Trustees records
Scope and Contents
The Board of Trustees records reflect the Corcoran Gallery of Art's growth and changes from 1869-2012. The records consist of the minutes, agendas, and committee reports of quarterly, special, and annual meetings of the Trustees. The Trustees were responsible for the appointment of a director, the appropriation of funds, approval or rejection of art works, the maintenance of the building, approval of departmental reports, and other pertinent issues and events. The records date from 1869 to 2012.
- Creation: 1869-2012
- Corcoran Gallery of Art (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to research.
The records of the Board of Trustees are closed for 25 years from the date of creation.
Conditions Governing Use
To the extent that the institution owns copyright, the donor has assigned the copyright in its works to The George Washington University; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For activities that the researcher determines fall under fair use as defined under U.S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Please contact Special Collections if the copyright status of the materials you wish to reuse is unclear. Staff will provide additional information.
For re-use of materials in the collection not created by the donor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights, determining if the intended re-use falls under fair use, and obtaining approval from the copyright holder if the intended use does not fall under fair use. For such materials, researchers do not need anything further from The George Washington University’s Special Collections Research Center.
The first section of this history, covering events through 1981, was prepared by Corcoran Archivist Katherine M. Kovocs for publication in 1985 with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In 1869, W.W. Corcoran formed the Board of Trustees for the Corcoran Gallery of Art. W.W. Corcoran submitted a deed stating the Board's duties:
1. organization and foundation of a permanent Board of Trustees which may make, alter, amend, repeal, re-enact the by-laws, rules and regulations;
2. consistently forming a board of nine members replenishing when the need arises;
3. accounting for and maintaining the property, rights and credits of the Gallery;
4. establishment and maintenance of a public gallery for the promotion and encouragement of the arts of painting and sculpture, and fine arts with merits set by the Trustees;
5. management of the Board of Trustees as they see fit;
6. control the works of art donated to the Gallery, accepting or declining as they see fit;
7. maintenance of the Gallery as specified by W.W. Corcoran; however, if the Board of Trustees makes a major breach of contract, the contract will be void;
8. application for an Act of Congress if the need arises.
In 1874, the first Annual Meeting of the Board of Trustees was held, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art opened to the public. The Board consisted of nine members with a President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Curator. In 1900, the by-laws were amended changing the position of Curator to Director. In 1931, the by-laws were again amended creating the position of Second Vice President. The by-laws state that the Board will meet four times a year- January, April, June and October with an Annual Meeting the third Monday of January. The by-laws state the various committees with their individual duties: Committee on the Building, Committee on Works of Art, Committee on Accounts, and Committee on Legislation. The by-laws were amended in 1937, changing the Committee on Works of Art to Committee on Works of Art and the School. The by-laws were amended again in 1949 creating a new Executive Committee to continue the functions of the Board of Trustees on a regular basis. Many of these amendments reflect the growth and development of the institution.
The major purpose of the Board of Trustees is to oversee the management and development of the Gallery and School. It is significant that these nine members of the Board have worked as a unit for the Corcoran's betterment. Since the Board forms the major controlling network of the Corcoran, it is constantly involved with major and minor decisions. The Board has made four major decisions affecting the Corcoran Gallery of Art's direction:
1. the decision to sell the Renwick and build a new (present) building;
2. the decision to accept the Clark Bequest constructing the addition to house the Clark Collection and expanding the Museum as a whole;
3. the decision that every thirty years the Board renews the Gallery’s policies through an updated statement of W.W. Corcoran’s ideas;
4. the decision to seek degree granting authority and accreditation for the Corcoran School of Art.
In 1968, in an effort to broaden the Gallery's base of support, the Board of Governors was formed to assist the Board of Trustees. In 1973, the Board of Governors was disbanded and the Board of Trustees was expanded beyond the original nine Life Trustees with the election of Term Trustees.
The following section of this history was prepared in 2019 by George Washington University SCRC staff with the support of the Luce Foundation.
The nine Life Trustees were exempt from annual re-elections, while the Term Trustees served two year terms subject to re-election. There would eventually be over sixty Term Trustees, leading to concerns about the size of the board, as well as divisions caused by the two-tiered system.
The Board of Trustees was reorganized in 1990 in response to the cancellation of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition “The Perfect Moment” in 1989. Life Trustees were abolished, and the by-laws were restructured in order to reduce the size of the Board of Trustees. A structured term and a rotation system for members of the Board was also introduced, as well as a more democratic system for nominating officers on the Board. The Board of Trustees adopted a new Statement of Purpose in 1993 as the final stage in an overall course correction for the Gallery.
In 1997, the Board of Trustees approved the resolution to use the 17th and New York Avenue NW plot to build an expansion to the Corcoran museum. By 2005 it had become clear that the Gallery would not be able to meet the financial obligations required, and the Board of Trustees suspended the plans for the expansion.
In 2013, faced with continuing financial hardship, the Board of Trustees began to explore a partnership with the University of Maryland. Concerns over the specifics of the proposed deal led the Trustees to decide, in May 2014, to instead work with the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. The proposed plan would split the Gallery’s collection and the School of Art between the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University, respectively, with George Washington University retaining ownership of the Flagg building.
Because the planned partition would violate the Gallery’s deed of trust, the Trustees filed a petition with the District of Columbia for a court order allowing the trust to be broken under the doctrine of cy pres. The Court approved the petition, despite a counter petition from the Save the Corcoran group opposing the partition of the Gallery.
In 2018, as part of the agreement with the National Gallery of Art, the Corcoran Board of Trustees announced that 10,862 works of art would be freely distributed to museums in D.C. and around the country, with 99+% or 10,753 works, remaining in Washington D.C., and 8,631 pieces going to the NGA specifically.
34.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
In 1869, W.W. Corcoran formed the Board of Trustees for the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In 1874, the first Annual Meeting of the Board of Trustees was held, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art opened to the public. The Trustees were responsible for the appointment of a director, the appropriation of funds, approval or rejection of art works, the maintenance of the building, approval of departmental reports, and other pertinent issues and events. The records consist of the minutes, agendas, and committee reports of quarterly, special, and annual meetings of the Trustees. The records date from 1869 to 2012.
Organized into 3 series: Early meeting records; Records transferred post-1980; and Early meeting ledgers.
Materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.
The material in Series 1 Early Meeting records, 1869-1980 was transferred to the Corcoran Archives from various offices throughout the Gallery during the Archives initial processing project starting in January 1980. Records in Series 1 were accessioned by Brece V. Honeycutt.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Corcoran Institution Board of Trustees donated these records to The George Washington University in 2016.
- Guide to the Corcoran Gallery of Art and Corcoran College of Art + Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art Board of Trustees records, 1869-2012
- Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English