National Geographic : 1967 Mar
solid marble surface 65 feet high and, in the sum total of its four sides, almost half a mile in length-making the National Gallery one of the world's largest marble buildings. These exterior walls exemplify the pains taking approach of the builders. Because of the Gallery's size-it is longer than the U. S. Capitol-they felt that the reflection of the sun on a massive white exterior would pro duce a harsh glare. So they specified a delicate rose-hued marble from Tennessee. Marble Giant Built in Three Parts The first shipments revealed several differ ing shades of marble. To impart a uniform color to the masonry, experts classified each block at the quarry so that the deepest rose would be at the base, with subsequent courses rising in gradually paler strata to create the illusion that the building was actually a uni form rose-white tone. Eight hundred railroad cars carried the precut marble from Tennessee to Washington, and the Southern Railway constructed special metal covers for the gondola cars so that no soot would discolor the marble en route. The huge bronze-and-steel doors of the Gal lery's main entrance-32 feet tall and 6 tons each in weight-open onto the Rotunda, remi- niscent of Rome's 1,800-year-old Pantheon. Observant visitors will find, as they enter either wing, a bronze joint bisecting the floor. Visible only underfoot, it actually runs up the walls and across the roof. The Gallery is built in three segments, and these overlapping joints slide to allow for expansion and con traction from heat and cold. In the planning stage, the Gallery adopted a policy of displaying works of art in settings of maximum effectiveness. We have never compromised that principle. Our paintings hang at wide intervals so that each, bracketed by empty wall space, may be viewed in rel ative isolation. And our 123 individual exhib it rooms differ widely in decor. Early Italian paintings are placed against travertine stone and plaster walls; the opulence of later Italian paintings is set off by damask. Dutch, Flem ish, and Spanish paintings are hung against oak paneling, and light-colored panels provide an 18th-century background for French, Eng lish, and American pictures of that period. A quarter of a century later, I can confess that we who steered the new National Gallery out into the tricky crosscurrents of the art world constituted a remarkably amateurish crew. David E. Finley, the first Director, was a lawyer and a former special assistant to EKTACHROMEBYJAMESL. STANFIELD,BLACKSTAR© N.G .S.