The Museum of Fine Arts (or MFA) in Boston, Massachusetts, is the fourth largest museum in the United States. It contains more than 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas. With more than one million visitors a year, it is the 55th most-visited art museum in the world as of 2014.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is one of the most comprehensive art museums in the world with a collection that exemplifies the breadth, richness, and diversity of artistic expression, from prehistoric times to modern day.
Founded in 1870, the museum moved to its current location in 1909. The museum is affiliated with the Tufts School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
World-renowned paintings by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cassatt—as well as the finest group of Monets outside of Paris and one of the richest collections of prints and drawings in the world—share space with mummies, sculpture, ceramics, and gold from ancient Egypt, Greece, the Near East, and the Roman Empire, and masterpieces of African and Oceanic art from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
Paintings, sculpture, furniture, decorative arts, and fashion from North, Central, and South America are displayed in the context and era of their origin, including one of the finest collections of art from the United States.
Encompassing Japanese, Chinese, and Indian painting and sculpture; Japanese prints and metalwork; and Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese ceramics, the MFA’s collection of Asian art is unrivaled in size, scope, and distinction in the Western world.
The Museum of Fine Arts was founded in 1870 and opened in 1876, with most of its initial collection taken from the Boston Athenæum Art Gallery. Francis Davis Millet, a local artist, was instrumental in starting the Art School affiliated with the museum, and in appointing Emil Otto Grundmann as its first director. The museum was originally located in a highly ornamented brick Gothic Revival building in Copley Square designed by John Hubbard Sturgis and Charles Brigham which was noted for its massed architectural terracotta in an American building.
In 1907, plans were laid to build a new home for the museum on Huntington Avenue in Boston’s Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood near the renowned Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Museum trustees decided to hire architect Guy Lowell to create a design for a museum so that could be built in stages as funding was obtained for each phase. Two years later, the first section of Lowell’s neoclassical design was completed. It featured a 500-foot (150 m) façade of granite and a grand rotunda. The museum moved to its new location later that year; the Copley Square Hotel eventually would replace the old building.
The second phase of construction built a wing along The Fens to house paintings galleries. It was funded entirely by Maria Antoinette Evans Hunt, the wife of wealthy business magnate Robert Dawson Evans, and opened in 1915. From 1916 through 1925, the noted artist John Singer Sargent painted the frescoes that adorn the rotunda and the associated colonnades. Numerous additions enlarged the building throughout the years, including the Decorative Arts wing in 1928 (again enlarged in 1968) and the Norma Jean Calderwood Garden Court and Terrace in 1997. The West Wing, designed by I. M. Pei, opened in 1981, and was renamed the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art in 2008. This wing now houses the museum’s cafe, restaurant, and gift shop as well as a special exhibition space.
In the mid-2000s, the museum launched a major effort to renovate and expand its facilities. In a seven-year fundraising campaign between 2001 and 2008 for a new wing, the endowment, and operating expenses, the museum managed to total over $500 million, in addition to acquiring over $160 million worth of art. During the global financial crisis between 2007 and 2012, the museum’s budget was trimmed by $1.5 million and the museum increased revenues by conducting traveling exhibitions, which included a loan exhibition sent to the for-profit Bellagio in Las Vegas in exchange for $1 million. In 2011, Moody’s Investors Service calculated that the museum had over $180 million in outstanding debt. However, the agency cited growing attendance, a large endowment, and positive cash flow as reasons to believe that the museum’s finances would become stable in the near future.
The renovation included a new Art of the Americas Wing to feature artwork from North, South, and Central America. In 2006, the groundbreaking ceremonies took place. The wing and adjoining Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard were designed in a restrained, contemporary style by the London-based architectural firm Foster and Partners, under the directorship of Thomas T. Difraia and CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Architects. The landscape architecture firm Gustafson Guthrie Nichol redesigned the Huntington Avenue and Fenway entrances, gardens, access roads, and interior courtyards.
The wing opened on November 20, 2010 with free admission to the public. Mayor Thomas Menino declared it “Museum of Fine Arts Day”, and more than 13,500 visitors attended the opening. The 12,000-square-foot (1,100 m2) glass-enclosed courtyard features a 42.5-foot (13.0 m) high glass sculpture, titled the Lime Green Icicle Tower, by Dale Chihuly. In 2014, the Art of the Americas Wing was recognized for its high architectural achievement by being awarded the Harleston Parker Medal, by the Boston Society of Architects.
In 2015, the museum renovated its Japanese garden, Tenshin-en. The garden, which originally opened in 1988, was designed by Japanese professor Kinsaku Nakane. The garden’s kabukimon-style entrance gate was built by Chris Hall of Massachusetts, using traditional Japanese carpentry techniques.
In the MFA’s collection, contemporary art offers new perspectives, encouraging connections between the art of the past and the art of today. All media are represented: painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, performance, installation, decorative arts, craft, design, and film and video.
The Museum of Fine Arts holds one of the most comprehensive collections in the world, and possesses materials from a wide variety of art movements and cultures. The museum maintains one of the largest online databases in the world, with information on over 346,000 items from its collection, accompanied with digitized images.
Art of the Americas
Welcome to the Art of the Americas department at the MFA. Our world-class collection encompasses paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts created throughout North, Central, and South America over 3,000 years. The Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum integrates these works across four floors and forty-nine galleries, inviting audiences to consider them in global contexts, shaped by histories of migration and cultural exchange.
Art of Europe
The Art of Europe department encompasses the MFA’s rich holdings of European paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts. These include more than 21,000 artworks from the Middle Ages through the mid-20th century.
Art of Asia
The MFA’s Asian art collection covers the creative achievement of more than half the world’s population since 4000 BC. The collection of more than 100,000 objects includes paintings, prints, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, and other art forms from Japan, China, Korea, South and Southeast Asia, and the Islamic world.
Art of Africa and Oceania
From bronze altarpieces to palace pillars to historic men’s masks, the growing MFA collection of African and Pacific art includes masterpieces from the 16th to 20th centuries. These collections are the newest addition to the MFA’s world-class holdings, and include significant artworks in abstract and realistic styles.
Art of the Ancient World
Art of the Ancient World is home to one of the world’s premiere encyclopedic collections of antiquities, featuring more than 85,000 works of art from Egypt, Nubia, the Near East, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, and Anatolia. These works range in date from about 6500 BC to AD 600 and include diverse media—sculpture, jewelry, coffins, mummies, coins, weapons, architecture, vases, carved gems, musical instruments, and mosaics. Special strengths of the collection are Old Kingdom Egyptian art, Nubian art of all periods, Greek vases, Classical coins and gems, and Roman funerary art and imperial portraiture.
While works by living artists have always been collected by the MFA – Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, and John Singer Sargent were contemporary artists when some of their paintings were acquired – the Department of Contemporary Art was only established formally in the Museum’s centennial year, 1971. Since 1992, it has focused on art created since 1955 and today the collection contains more than 1500 works from across the globe. All media are represented: painting, sculpture, photography, works on paper, installation, decorative arts, craft, design and film and video. The MFA is also one of the first encyclopedic museums in the United States to fully integrate performance art into its collections, exhibitions and programs. Thousands more works dating since 1955 are held in the Museum’s other departments including Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Art of the Americas, Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa, and Textiles and Fashion Arts.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was one of the earliest museums in the country to collect photography, initiated in 1924 when Alfred Stieglitz donated 27 of his photographs. A complementary group of 35 additional Stieglitz photographs was given in 1950 by the photographer’s widow Georgia O’Keeffe. Additional strengths of the collection include daguerreotypes by Southworth and Hawes; sublime landscapes of the American West; turn-of-the-century Pictorialism; the Lane Collection (including substantial holdings of Charles Sheeler, Edward Weston, and Ansel Adams); European and central European photography from between the wars (including the Sonja Bullaty and Angelo Lomeo Collection of Josef Sudek photographs); European post-war Subjective photography; sizable groups of works by Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, and Nicholas Nixon; mountain photographs by Bradford Washburn; portraits of internationally known figures by Yousuf Karsh; and fashion and celebrity images by Herb Ritts.
Prints and Drawings
The MFA’s collection of prints and drawings is among the richest in the world, containing almost 200,000 works that range from the beginnings of printing in the 15th century to today. The collection has many strengths—from Dürer and Rembrandt to Goya and John Singer Sargent—but it boasts unexpected areas of depth as well, such as a major gathering of rare books and one of the world’s finest collections of postcards. Not surprisingly, the collection is rich in art from the United States, especially from the middle decades of the 19th century, with much material associated with the Civil War.
View musical instruments from around the world, ranging from ancient times to the late twentieth century. The Museum is home to over 1,100 instruments, including many European and American examples, as well as numerous pieces from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas. Museum visitors can enjoy and learn about the instrument collection not only through exhibitions, but also by way of talks, live demonstrations, concerts, publications, and recorded audio samples.
Textile and Fashion Arts
The MFA’s textiles collection was started when Boston was the center of the US textile industry. Today the Museum owns more than 27,000 objects ranging from American needlepoint to European tapestries, Middle Eastern rugs, African kente cloths, and haute couture fashions.
From ancient Egyptian broadcollars to contemporary studio jewelry, the MFA has an exciting collection of jewelry from almost every culture.
Other notable works are in the collection, but the following examples are ones in the public domain and for which pictures are available.