Corcoran Gallery of Art

The Corcoran Gallery of Art near the White House in Washington, D.C. (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images / February 19, 2014)

In a surprise announcement, the financially troubled Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington has entered into an agreement to be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University. The deal, announced on Wednesday, would mark the largest takeover of an arts institution in the nation's capital in recent memory.

The Corcoran, which is a private, nonprofit organization, has experienced financial difficulties for years and had recently explored a potential partnership with the University of Maryland. Wednesday's announcement signals a new chapter for the institution, which houses an extensive and highly valued collection of American art from the 18th century to the present.

Under the deal, which must still be approved by the Corcoran's board, the National Gallery would assume responsibility for the Corcoran Gallery's 17,000-piece collection with the expectation that it will eventually accession, or acquire, the bulk of it.

PHOTOS: The most fascinating arts stories of 2013

George Washington University would take over responsibility of the Corcoran building, which is located near the White House in downtown Washington. The university will also absorb the Corcoran College of Art + Design, a private institution with facilities in downtown and in Georgetown.

"This coalition among our three institutions will open important new possibilities for Washington, D.C.," Peggy Loar, the Corcoran's interim director and president, said in a release Wednesday.

GRAPHIC: Faces to watch 2014 | Entertainment

She separately told the Washington Post that "there is no way to continue the Corcoran as we knew it or as we know it .... That's going to be the kernel of pain for some people."

The Corcoran, which first opened to the public in 1897, has long experienced financial difficulties. In recent years the organization had explored leaving its Beaux-Arts building and moving to the suburbs.

Under the terms of the newest deal, the Corcoran would remain a nonprofit institution. Admission will be free, marking a departure from the Corcoran's current policy of charging $10 for a general adult admission. 

ALSO:

2012: Corcoran Gallery of Art will stay put

Friendly takeover: USC absorbs Pasadena's Pacific Asia Museum

Art review: '#sweetjane' fuses art and a horrific crime to powerful effect