The Smithsonian American Art Museum on June 23 received a $5.4 million gift from billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, completing the fundraising for renovation of its historic Renwick Gallery.
The 155-year-old National Historic Landmark building is America’s first structure built as an art museum. The Second Empire building’s front entry is inscribed with the words “Dedicated to Art”.
David M. Rubenstein is dedicated to America’s history.
This is his latest in a series of multi-million-dollar gifts to restore major American landmarks, including the Washington Monument, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Rubenstein donated half of the Washington Monument’s $15 million repair bill after it was damaged by an earthquake.
His numerous other financial gifts have greatly benefited the National Archives.
The National Archives last December opened the David M. Rubenstein Gallery and its permanent exhibition “Records of Rights”. It vividly brings to life the past and ever-present struggles of U.S. women, African Americans, and immigrants.
The centerpiece is Rubenstein’s original 1297 Magna Carta — America’s only original Magna Carta (“great charter”) — which he loaned indefinitely to the National Archives.
The Renwick Gallery’s Grand Salon will be named in honor of Rubenstein, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) announced in its statement June 23. The Renwick Gallery is part of the SAAM.
“The passion David Rubenstein brings to preserving great landmarks of American history is inspiring,” said SAAM director Betsy Broun. “His generous gift guarantees that the future of this historic landmark as a premier showcase for American ingenuity and creativity will continue for generations to come.”
“I am honored to help with restoration of the Renwick, and I congratulate Betsy Broun on completing this important undertaking,” said Rubenstein, a member of the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents since 2009.
More than one-sixth of the $30 million renovation cost comes from Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset manager. The renovation, underway since last December, is due to be completed in 14 months.
The building, called the “American Louvre” when it first opened, was designed in 1859 by James Renwick Jr. He also designed the Smithsonian’s “Castle” and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
In 1956, Congress proposed razing the Renwick building, diagonally across from the White House. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy led the campaign to save the Renwick as part of her plan to restore the Lafayette Square area surrounding the White House.
In 1972, the Renwick became the home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program.