Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
(1882) by John Singer Sargent.
American Impressionsm at its best.
Museum of Fine Arts Boston
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HOW TO APPRECIATE
Boston is home to several distinguished centres of fine art, including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Fogg Museum and the Arthur M Sackler Museum and the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University. The city's largest venue, however, is the comprehensive but sprawling Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). Indeed, the MFA is one of the biggest and best art museums in the world. Founded in 1870, and established in its present location since 1909, it contains over 450,000 works of art, and receives more than one million visitors annually. The Museum is world renowned for its Oriental collections, its European Decorative Art, its American Art and its 19th century paintings.
ART EDUCATION: BOSTON
ARTS OF ISLAM
The Asian Art Collection
See also our essay on art appreciation: How To Appreciate Paintings.
WORLD'S BEST ART
MEANING OF ART
The collection of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts is grouped into eight major curatorial departments. They include: the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of Europe; Art of the Americas; Art of the Ancient World; Contemporary Art; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical instruments (not covered). Here is a brief departmental overview.
One of the finest in the Western world, the MFA's assembly of Asian art, especially its Chinese art and Japanese art, represents the creative achievement of half the world's population since 4,000 BCE. It includes painting and sculpture from Japan, China, and India; Japanese prints, masks, textiles and metalwork; ancient pottery from China, Korea and Vietnam; Korean art and crafts; Islamic art by Muslim artists; an expanding selection of Oceanic art and a variety of African art. Also included is the Morse collection of 5,000 items of Japanese pottery, part of the largest collection of Japanese works outside of Japan; and over 20,000 Japanese postcards in the Leonard A. Lauder collection. The Museum even has a Japanese garden which offers a tranquil, contemplative space outside. A major reason for the build-up of this magnificent Asian art collection was the trading activity between Boston merchants and Chinese exporters during the 19th century.
Spanning thirteen centuries (c.650 - c.1970), the Museum's holding of over 22,000 European artworks features masterpieces by a number of the greatest artists in history. In addition to fine art painting on panel, canvas, ivory, copper, and in fresco, it embraces sculpture and decorative art, notably furniture, metalwork, ceramics and glass, and architectural design elements.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts was built on American art. In fact the museum's first acquisition in 1870 was Elijah in the Desert, by Washington Allston, one of America's first great romantic painters. Later acquisitions included Thomas Crawford's marble sculpture Portrait of Charles Sumner, and a Tiffany silver pitcher acquired at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Gradually, the collection expanded. In 1928, a number of American period rooms were designed along with a new decorative arts wing. The Karolik Collection of 18th-Century American Arts significantly boosted the Museum's holdings of colonial furniture, paintings, silver, and other precious objects. Another Karolik donation, in 1947, of American paintings produced between 1815 and 1865, secured numerous works by artists of the Hudson River school and its offshoot Luminism, along with a series of American genre paintings.
Other Boston collectors have also given generously to the Museum. Today the collection includes, masterpieces such as Singer Sargent's breathtaking Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, Copley's magnificent Portrait of Paul Revere, his own copy of Watson and the Shark (original in the National Gallery of Art Washington DC), plus works by Winslow Homer. (See also Ashcan School.) In addition, the Museum's collection of American decorative arts has been significantly expanded by Landon T. Clay's gifts of pre-Columbian art from the ancient Americas - notably gold works and a wonderful group of Maya polychrome ceramics - along with other acquisitions of furniture, sculpture, silver, glass art, ceramics, pewter, and other American items from prehistoric times onwards.
MFA's collection of art from the Ancient World, containing more than 83,000 pieces, ranks alongside many of the world's leading collections. Dating from roughly 6500 BCE to 600 CE, it features Greek art as well as and artifacts from Egypt, Nubia, the Middle East, Etruria, Ancient Rome, Cyprus, and Turkey, including sculpture, jewellery, sarcophagi, ornately wrapped mummies, weapons, coins, vases, carved gemstones, mosaic art, and musical instruments.
The Museum's new Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery displays a number of distinguished bronze and marble statues from the fourth century BCE (Greek Late Classical style) to the third century CE (Late Roman Empire style). They include copies of some of the greatest masterpieces of Greek sculpture, such as the Spear Carrier by Polykleitos and the Scraper by Lysippos. Also on display is Athenian funerary sculpture of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE.
Established at the Museum's centennial in 1971, MFA's collection of contemporary art (post-1955 works) features more than 600 items, with a focus on contemporary painting though it also includes significant examples of sculpture, photography, and new art media such as video projections. Exhibits include paintings by colour-field painters such as Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Jack Bush, and Larry Poons; a number of canvases by European Neo-Expressionists, including Georg Baselitz, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer, and Sigmar Polke; a 1969 canvas by the muralist and Abstract Expressionist Philip Guston; reliefs and paintings by Antonio Lopez Garcia, and a sculpture by David Smith. Other modern and contemporary artists represented at Boston's MFA, include: Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter, Cindy Sherman, Chuck Close, Robert Irwin, Susan Rothenberg, and Takashi Murakami. Contemporary sculptors include Anthony Caro, George Segal, Jonathan Borofsky, Sarah Sze, and Joel Shapiro, while contemporary lens-based art comes from Robert Mapplethorpe, Rineke Dijkstra, Thomas Ruff, and Thomas Struth.
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
Begun in 1887, Boston MFA's encyclopedic collection of works on paper includes drawings, paper-prints, watercolours, fine art photography, illustrated books, and posters of both American and European origin, from roughly 1400 to the present. In both size and quality, the collection is one of the world's major collections of its type, and is on display in the Morse Study Room for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs on the first floor of the Museum. Highlights include an outstanding collection of works by the Nothern Renaissance genius Albrecht Durer, etchings by the great Italian still life painter Giorgio Morandi, and a magnificent display of early French photography. Photographic art can be seen in the Herb Ritts Gallery.
The David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Arts
Since Boston was the geographical centre of the United States textile industry, its collection of textile and fashion art was developed from the very beginning. Important contributions were made by Denman Waldo Ross, Harvard professor of design and a Museum Trustee, who donated numerous Coptic and Andean textiles, European, Turkish, Indian, and Persian silk weavings, Indonesian batiks, and Middle Eastern rugs; and by William Sturgis Bigelow, an expert in Japanese art, who donated a range of Japanese textiles and robes. All this was boosted further by the efforts of Gertrude Townsend, the department's first curator, who in 1938 acquired for the Museum the Mrs. Philip Lehman Collection of textiles and costume accessories, and later in 194353 the Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection of costumes, accessories, needlework, costume books, and prints. Other acquisitions followed, including the Esther Oldham Collection of Fans in 1976, along with a number of 20th century and African textiles. In 2004, in honour of a substantial bequest from Roberta Gleiter Logie, the department was named the David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Arts. Today, it contains over 27,000 objects, including samplers, fans, tapestries, Japanese textiles, and ancient textiles and costumes from Peru. The department also includes a section concerned with jewellery, run by the Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewellery. The Museum of Fine Arts is now unquestionably one of the best art museums in America.
For more about famous art-buyers
and their collections, see: Art Collectors.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART