The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, hosts an art collection as well as traveling art exhibitions, educational programs and an extensive research library. Its initial artwork came from the private collection of Kay and Velma Kimbell, who also provided funds for a new building to house it.
The building was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn and is widely recognized as one of the most significant works of architecture of recent times. It is especially noted for the wash of silvery natural light across its vaulted gallery ceilings.
In 1966, before the museum even had a building, founding director Brown included this directive in his Policy Statement: “The goal shall be definitive excellence, not size of collection.” Accordingly, the museum’s collection today consists of only about 350 works of art, but they are of notably high quality.
The European collection is the most extensive in the museum and includes Michelangelo’s first known painting, The Torment of Saint Anthony, the only painting by Michelangelo on exhibit in the Americas. It also includes works by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Mantegna, El Greco, Carracci, Caravaggio, Rubens, Guercino, La Tour, Poussin, Velázquez, Rembrandt, Boucher, Gainsborough, Vigée-Lebrun, Friedrich (the first painting by the artist acquired by a public collection outside of Europe), Cézanne, Monet, Caillebotte, Matisse, Mondrian, Braque and Picasso. Works from the classical period include antiquities from Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Rome. The Asian collection comprises sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, and works of decorative art from China, Korea, Japan, India, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, and Thailand. Precolumbian art is represented by Maya works in ceramic, stone, shell, and jade, Olmec, Zapotec, and Aztec sculpture, as well as pieces from the Conte and Huari cultures. The African collection consists primarily of bronze, wood, and terracotta sculpture from West and Central Africa, including examples from Nigeria, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Oceanic art is represented by a Maori figure.
The museum owns few pieces created after the mid-20th century (believing that era to be the province of its neighbor, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) or any American art (believing that to be the province of its other neighbor, the Amon Carter Museum).
The museum also houses a substantial library with over 59,000 books, periodicals and auction catalogs that are available as a resource to art historians and to faculty and graduate students from surrounding universities.
The Kimbell Art Foundation, which owns and operates the Museum, was established in 1936 by Kay and Velma Kimbell together with Kay’s sister and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Coleman Carter, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Kimbell purchased their first paintings. The Foundation continued to collect artworks, mostly portraits of the British and French schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, and when Mr. Kimbell died, in 1964, he left his collection and entire personal fortune to the Foundation.
By 1966, the Foundation’s board of directors had appointed the Museum’s first director and set the policy of forming “collections of the highest aesthetic quality, derived from any and all periods in man’s history, and in any medium or style.” Two aspects of that plan would have the greatest impact on changing the Kimbell collection: an expansion of vision to encompass world history and a new focus on a small number of key objects. The collection now consists of about 350 works that not only epitomize their periods and movements but also touch individual high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance. Ranging in period from antiquity to the 20th century, it includes European masterpieces by artists such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Monet, Picasso, and Matisse; important collections of Egyptian and classical antiquities; and Asian, Precolumbian, and African art.
The Museum’s 1972 building, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. A second building, designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2013 and now provides space for special exhibitions, dedicated classrooms and a 298-seat auditorium with excellent acoustics for music.