David E. Finley, Jr. - Career - National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Andrew Mellon had acquired a major collection of American portraits that he hoped would form the nucleus of a future National Portrait Gallery, but died before he could take any concrete steps in that direction. David Finley took up the cause and in 1956 when the federal government planned to demolish the Old Patent Office Building, one of Washington’s oldest and most beautiful, for a parking garage, Finley as chairman of both the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Fine Arts Commission, appealed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who saved it for the National Portrait Gallery. It took until 1968 before the building could house the Portrait Gallery and also the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Finley served on its Commission until his death, recommended its first director and with his wife gave it some of its first gifts of portraits and furniture.

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