D.C. in full color

A modern portrait of America’s capital through its murals

From monochrome monuments to stone-faced founding fathers, Washington, D.C. is known for housing history. But that doesn’t mean the District is stuck in the past. On the contrary, Washington, D.C. murals illustrate contemporary capital culture in a kaleidoscopic color palette. And while monuments to Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson pay tribute to the nation’s history, these brick and concrete canvases show history in the making.

It’s worth noting: These Washington, D.C. murals are only temporary tributes, fated to fade or be bulldozed. And that’s okay. Because the narrative of this city is constantly changing.

washington dc mural of george washington

George Washington (background)
Gilbert Stuart, 1821

This oil painting of the first president probably looks familiar. That’s because you’ve seen a near-identical portrait by the artist in your wallet. See it in person at D.C’s National Gallery of Art.

George Washington (foreground)
Madsteez, 2017

The OG commander-in-chief got his groove back in this funky rendition by Madsteez. The mural was knocked down less than a year after it was made, but the purple president lives on in our hearts.


washington dc murals

Johan Moorman, 2018

Dutch muralist Johan Moorman has his artistic technique down to a science, incorporating STEM principles and neo-plasticism influences in his work. Moorman painted this wall in 2018, 2.7 miles from the Washington Monument.

Murals are monuments that speak to the community. They represent a snapshot of what's going on currently.

Nancee Lyons, Coordinator at MuralsDC, an initiative that pairs artists with blank wall space throughout the city.

washington dc murals of people

Lee’s Legacy
Kaliq Crosby, 2017

Winnifred and William Lee’s eponymous flower shop has blossomed (sorry, we had to) on U Street since 1945. Crosby’s airbrushed work was designed to pay tribute to the enduring small business and its entrepreneurs. The wall is 3.4 miles from where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

washington dc mural of marvin gaye

Marvin Gaye
Aniekan Udofia, 2014

In celebration of hometown hero Marvin Gaye, this larger-than-life Washington, D.C. mural popped up in 2014, just a three-minute walk from The Howard Theatre where a young Gaye saw jazz legends perform.

Rose Jaffe

Native Washingtonian and muralist Rose Jaffe chatted with us about the D.C. artist community, mentoring younger painters, and why it’s crucial to keep making art.

washington dc mural artist: rose jaffe

What do you love most about the city?

There’s so many things I love about D.C. I moved back here after college and I really didn’t think I would stick around, but then I found the art scene here to be welcoming, open, accessible, and supportive. D.C. is such an interesting place because it’s so expensive to live here, but there’s also a lot of money for artists if they stick around.

So if you can make it work here, it’s actually a great place for artists. And the city’s really loving the arts right now, so there are a lot of grants and funding for artists. D.C. is like a family member. You love them, you hate them, you need to get away sometimes, but then you always come back.

running past washington dc mural

1/4 Center for Creative Nonviolence Homeless Shelter, Rose Jaffe, 2016

washington dc mural zoomed out

2/4 Let. Go. Rose Jaffe, 2017

3/4 Native Washingtonian and muralist Rose Jaffe

4/4 DC Jazz Heroes, Kate DeCiccio and Rose Jaffe, 2017

1/4 Center for Creative Nonviolence Homeless Shelter, Rose Jaffe, 2016

2/4 Let. Go. Rose Jaffe, 2017

3/4 Native Washingtonian and muralist Rose Jaffe

4/4 DC Jazz Heroes, Kate DeCiccio and Rose Jaffe, 2017

How do you give back to the artist community?

I actually taught high school for three years and also taught in this amazing after-school program called Words Beats & Life. There’s one student in particular that I really connected with, and I still work with her. I’ve had a fair amount of young people reach out to me, whether it’s interviewing me or coming to my studio and chatting about how I make things work.

I’ve been back to University of Michigan [her alma mater] a few times doing workshops about being a working artist. I’ve been full-time for about three years and out of school for six now, so it’s cool to be in a space where I can offer guidance to younger artists. It’s kind of like returning the favor, and continuing the awesome energy that the artists have here in the city.

Do you have any advice for younger artists?

Just get rolls of butcher paper and roll them out to practice working large-scale. Having constant studio practice is also critical—I’m in my studio as much as I can be. But I think the best thing to do is to keep making art. I’m drawing every day, I paint a ton, and I create a lot.


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Hannah Sheinberg

Hannah is a copywriter at EF Education First. She's written about kava culture in Fiji, Jurassic fossils in Dorset, and mountain towns in Mallorca. Her favorite vacation spot is Kauai, where she likes to surf and eat her weight in shave ice.