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John Carter Brown’s legacy on Washington DC elegantly told

John Carter Brown III was the director of Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992.

He also served as chair of the United States Commission of Fine Arts, the federal body responsible for reviewing the design, architecture, and aesthetics of the American capital for 31 years.

A patrician born into one of America’s oldest and wealthiest families, Brown was also a populist who developed shows such as Treasure Houses of Britain that continue to set the standard for blockbuster exhibitions to this day.

Brown’s most tangible legacy, however, is as an architectural patron who left an indelible mark on Washington by commissioning the National Gallery’s new east building from IM Pei and the new Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial from Maya Lin.

Neil Harris’s elegant book tells Brown’s remarkable story while placing his museum, and the American capital, in the wider cultural and political context of the American post-war. It’s a fascinating read.

nleech@thenational.ae

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