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Early Patron—John Varden


The City of Washington, District of Columbia, was scarcely thirty years old when in 1829 an optimistic citizen named John Varden took it upon himself to begin a collection that would lend a patina of culture to the still-raw capital. He first called his collection "John Varden's Museum." By 1836, he had opened a public gallery in his home and called it the "Washington Museum," enabling people to ponder a mélange of historical, natural, and artistic curiosities altogether typical of the age.

In June 1841, according to Varden, a committee from the newly established National Institute accepted the collection, and soon thereafter it was removed to and became a part of the institute in the new United States Patent Office Building.

In 1862, the National Institute's charter expired, and the collections, including those of Varden, were transferred to the Smithsonian Institution.

Adapted from William Kloss. Treasures from the National Museum of American Art, (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985), p. 11. (Copyright Smithsonian Institution.)