For many people, one of the draws of going to school in Washington, D.C., is the city’s rich cultural history. There are more galleries and private collections within this 10-mile square than can be fathomed, though most visitors and students rarely look beyond the well-known and expansive museums on the National Mall. Of all the smaller collections throughout the city, one that shines through with a unique perspective and one-of-a-kind artistic collections is the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, located right here in Georgetown.

What makes Dumbarton stand out from the rest is its focus on its collections. Instead of drawing work from every major period of art history, as most larger museums do, Dumbarton Oaks features a highly specialized collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art as well as that of the European masters. The works of Byzantium and South America are some of the most influential in history, and rarely do they receive as much attention and focus as they do at Dumbarton. The gallery also features rotating special exhibitions that highlight these underrepresented eras, including its current exhibit,  “Lasting Impressions: Body Art in the Ancient Americas.”

Another aspect of the Dumbarton Oaks collection that makes it so special is its location within residential Georgetown, a short 20-minute walk from the front gates. The beautiful Federal-style house was purchased by Robert Woods Bliss and his wife in 1920, and they expanded on it throughout their lives to accommodate their growing collection. Arguably the most impressive part of the house, however, is the garden, which has been meticulously cultivated and maintained since the Blisses donated the house to Harvard in 1940.

Dumbarton Oaks is a place where not only to view art and culture, but also to study them. According to the museum’s website, “Dumbarton Oaks is a research institute of Harvard Universtiy that exists to further and publish research …  in numerous overlooked areas of study beyond those highlighted in the collections, including Slavic and Near Eastern Studies, Andean South America and the unique Garden and Landscape Studies program, which focuses on ‘garden history, landscape architecture and related disciplines.'”

So if you are looking for a way to spend an afternoon surrounded by artistic beauty without making the trek into the city, look no further than the beautiful Dumbarton Oaks Collection.

For hours and more information about the history of the gallery, visit

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