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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Establishment of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

May 17, 1966

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

One of the greatest privately-owned collections of contemporary sculpture and paintings in the world has been offered to the people of the United States by Mr. Joseph H. Hirshhorn of New York City, and the Hirshhorn Foundation.

I commend to the consideration of the Congress legislation enabling the Smithsonian Institution to accept this gift on behalf of all our people.


The Nation has been fortunate in the great tradition of private contributions which have enriched the cultural life of its Capital City. James Smithson's bequest, for the increase and diffusion of knowledge, led to the establishment of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846, and thus to the foundation of a national center of learning and the arts. William Corcoran made an enduring contribution to the life of the Capital by founding, in 1859, the gallery that bears his name. Early in this century Charles Freer donated to the Institution the splendid collection of Oriental art that since 1922 has been housed in the Freer Gallery.

In 1937 Congress accepted the magnificent gift of Andrew Mellon that led to the erection of the National Gallery of Art. Then in 1938, farsighted legislation laid out the program of the National Collection of Fine Arts, which is joining the National Portrait Gallery in the Smithsonian's restored Patent Office Building.

Washington is emerging as a major cultural center, befitting the capital of a great nation. During recent years, the tempo of this development has quickened, and our citizens have caught the vision of a Washington equal in beauty and learning to the power of its institutions. Encouraging evidence of this is the outpouring of gifts for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


Now a superlative collection of works of contemporary art, enough to furnish an entire museum, has been offered to the Smithsonian Institution. It affords Washington a brilliant opportunity to broaden and strengthen its cultural offerings.

That we may seize this opportunity I am transmitting, for the consideration of the Congress, the attached bill to provide for the establishment of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. This legislation would provide an appropriate Mall site on which the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution would be authorized to construct a gallery of art and a garden of sculpture, to be known as the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The Hirshhorn Collection is the fruit of a lifetime of dedicated effort and discerning judgment, and its presentation to America is a testament to the generosity and public spirit of its donor. More than fifteen hundred pieces of sculpture and over four thousand eight hundred paintings and drawings, with a total value in excess of twenty-five million dollars, have been offered, together with a million dollars for the purchase of additional works.

The enjoyment of our people, and the contributions to knowledge that will result from the acceptance of this grand offer, are truly beyond price. Millions of Americans will soon be able to see, within walking distance of the National Gallery and its masterpieces of painting from earlier centuries, the work of those who have shaped the art of our time.

Thus Joseph Hirshhorn's gift will enrich, not only the city of Washington, but the citizens of every State who visit their nation's Capital.

I urge the Congress to respond to this magnificent offer by adopting the measure I am forwarding today.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The text of the draft bill forwarded with the President's letter was included in the White House release. For the President's remarks on November 7 upon signing the measure, see Item 587.

On May 21 the White House announced the conclusion of an agreement between Paul Mellon, President of the National Gallery of Art, and Stewart L. Udall, Secretary of the Interior, concerning the site of the proposed Sculpture Garden. The release stated that the Garden would be located in L'Enfant Square, a four-acre park area between the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Art on the north side of the Mall.
See also Item 226.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Establishment of the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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