The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC opened on March 17, 1941 -
with a seed collection from Andrew Mellon that he acquired from the Hermitage and several other European sources,
starting when he was serving as ambassador to Great Britain in the 1920s.
In 1930 Mellon had the rare opportunity to purchase art from the Hermitage in Russia. Stalin had ordered museum employees to raise money for the government by selling off valuable pieces. The sale was a secret, but the news was spread to select foreign collectors. Mellon purchased 21 paintings, including work by Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Titian, and Jan van Eyck.
Mellon donated the art and $15M to the Roosevelt Administration on the condition that they not name the museum after him, and model it on the National Gallery in London. He and the architect John Russell Pope both died before the building was completed.
When the National Gallery opened on this day in 1941 President Roosevelt gave the dedication speech. He said, "To accept this work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America — that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world's great art ... shall not be utterly destroyed."