There's more to art museums than just the Smithsonian in DC.
Feast your eyes and spirit at the Kreeger Museum, an oasis of vibrant 19th and 20th century paintings, sculpture and African and Asian art. The private collection of noted art enthusiast and philanthropist David Kreeger and his wife Carmen is housed in their stunning former residence, which is a work of art in itself, designed by renowned architect Phillip Johnson, with its Byzantine domes, travertine limestone clad walls, and interior courtyard filled with towering tropical plants.
Tucked away in Foxhall, the Kreeger isn't well known even to self-professed D.C. art lovers. You have to make an effort to visit the Kreeger because it’s not easily accessible. But visitors will find the secrets of its exuberant treasure trove of art work by the likes of Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Chagall, Miro, and Stella, and others, well-worth the journey.
The Kreeger's home was built as a showcase for their art collection in 1963 at a cost of $1.9 million. "I never bought art as an investment," Mr. Kreeger once said. "I bought it for love and was lucky. Art that embodies the creative spirit of man transcends the value of money."
The couple had a rule when it came to adding to their collection: Each of them had to love the piece or they wouldn’t buy it. Their desire was to be surrounded by their art so as to be “refreshed” at the end of the day. They eventually amassed more than three hundred works of art (paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures).
Entering the grand salon, you are immediately struck by the high-vaulted ceiling, the beautiful architectural details, and the Stein piano by the floor-to-ceiling windows that David Kreeger used to play. Former living spaces have been converted into mini galleries (Picassos to the right of you, Braques to the left of you!), flowing seamlessly one into the other, revealing a cascading sea of colors, textures and tones. But somehow, the space still seems personal. The feeling of being welcomed into someone's home still remains.
One of the biggest surprises among all the abstract wonders is the watercolor, “Dying Sunflower,” in the library. You’d never guess that it’s by Piet Mondrian – at least I didn’t. No hint of his signature abstract geometric grids are in this highly representational arabesque of a flower.
Moving through the grand salon, you'll come to a stunning staircase, its railing clad in bronze grill work, that shimmers and glows like molten lava. Each of the rectangles and parallelograms is a work of art, no two alike, like links in an enormous necklace.
Descend the staircase and you'll come to the lower gallery which hosts a regular rotation of pieces from the Kreeger's collection, as well as items from the Corcoran Gallery of Art where David was president and chairman for almost 20 years, and other institutions where the couple were patrons in their lifetime. You'll also find examples of traditional art from west and central Africa and Asia from the couple's permanent collection.
On the terrace, the sculptures, including works by Henry Moore and Isamu Noguchi, are placed as they were when the Kreegers lived here. The swimming pool on the lower level has been converted to a reflecting pool and sculptures that have been donated since the home became a museum are scattered across the five-acre property. Every inch of space at the museum, inside and out, is devoted to appreciating beautiful art.
The Kreegers wove music, painting, sculpture and architecture into the tapestry of their lives. Both had a great love of music. David was president of the National Symphony Orchestra, president and founder of the Washington Opera, both were amateur musicians and often hosted concerts in the Great Hall. This is an experience the museum recreates for visitors, where they host occasional live jazz performances that allow you to participate in the legacy of David and Carmen Kreeger; check the events calendar for the latest.
Kreeger blends world-renowed art, architectural interest, comfort and stunning views at every angle, to create a transporting experience few museums in DC can claim. Despite the museum’s modest profile, it provides one of the best art viewing experiences in the city.
Kreeger Museum is located at 2401 Foxhall Rd NW (free parking available). Reservations required to limit crowd sizes, per COVID guidelines. $10 suggested donation for adults.
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