Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Mfa boston af.jpg
Established 1870
Location 465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02115
Visitors Over 1 million visits annually
Director Malcolm Rogers
Public transit access Museum of Fine Arts Handicapped/disabled access
Ruggles Handicapped/disabled access

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the largest museums 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 (as of 2014) the 55th most-visited art museum in the world.

Founded in 1870, the museum moved to its current location in 1909. The museum is affiliated with an art academy, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and a sister museum, the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, in Nagoya, Japan. The director of the museum is Malcolm Rogers.



The museum was founded in 1870 and opened in 1876, with most of its collection taken from the Boston Athenæum Art Gallery. Francis Davis Millet was instrumental in starting the Art School attached to the museum and getting Emil Otto Grundmann (1844–1890) appointed as its first director.[1] The museum was originally located in a highly ornamented brick Gothic Revival building designed by John Hubbard Sturgis and Charles Brigham and noted for its unusual amount of architectural terra cotta for a U.S. building. It was built almost entirely of red brick and terra cotta with a small amount of stone included in its base. The brick was produced by the Peerless Brick Company of Philadelphia and the terra cotta was imported from England.[2] It sat on Copley Square in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston.


In 1907, plans were laid to build a new home for the museum on Huntington Avenue, Boston's "Avenue of the Arts". Museum trustees hired architect Guy Lowell to create a master plan for a museum that could be built in stages as funding was obtained for each phase. In 1909, the first section of Lowell’s neoclassical design was completed; it featured a 500-foot (150 m) façade of cut granite along Huntington Avenue, the grand rotunda, and the associated exhibition galleries. The museum moved in later that year.

The second phase of construction, funded entirely by Mrs. Robert Dawson Evans, built a wing along the Back Bay Fens to house painting galleries. It opened in 1915. From 1916 through 1925, John Singer Sargent created the art that lines the rotunda and the associated colonnade. Numerous additions enlarged the building throughout the years, including the Decorative Arts Wing in 1928 (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 exhibition space.[3]

The libraries at the Museum of Fine Arts house 320,000 items. The William Morris Hunt Memorial Library is named for the Vermont native and Boston painter and arts teacher.[4] The museum holds many works by Hunt, including the 1866 Italian Peasant Boy.[5]

2000s expansion[edit]

In the mid-2000s, the museum launched a major effort to renovate and expand its facilities. The work included a new Art of the Americas Wing that shows art from North, South, and Central America; redesigned and expanded education facilities; and extensive renovations of its European and Classical galleries, visitor services, and conservation facilities. Ultimately, the project added 133,500 square feet (12,400 m2) of space, enlarging the building by 28%.[6]

Art of the Americas Wing[edit]

The Art of the Americas Wing and adjoining Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard were designed in a restrained, contemporary style by the London architectural firm of Foster and Partners, under the directorship of Thomas T. Difraia. CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Architects of Boston was the project's Architect of Record.

In 2006, groundbreaking ceremonies took place for the Art of the Americas Wing, which features art from North, South, and Central America. As part of the project, the adjacent garden courtyard was transformed into a climate-controlled year-round glass atrium enclosure, including restaurant seating. Landscape architects Gustafson Guthrie Nichol redesigned the Huntington Avenue and Fenway entrances, gardens, access roads, and interior courtyards.

The wing opened November 20, 2010, with free admission to the public.[6] Mayor Thomas Menino declared it "Museum of Fine Arts Day," and more than 13,500 attended the festive opening. The day kicked off in the wing's enclosed glass-walled court with an ASL-interpreted speech by Malcolm Rogers. He spoke from the second-floor landing of the cantilevered glass staircase that connects the wing's three levels of galleries. "Our goal through this project is to make the MFA more accessible," said Rogers. "This is your museum."[7]

Many of the wing's 53 galleries are dedicated to individual artists or artistic movements, including pre-Columbian arts, Maya ceramics, Native North American art, African-American artists, the colonial portraiture of John Singleton Copley and Gilbert Stuart, the silverware of Paul Revere, the Hudson River School of landscape painting, folk art, photography, and works by John Singer Sargent.[8] Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit is symmetrically flanked by the pair of tall ceramic vases which are depicted in the painting.

The wing's glass-walled outer hallways display several sculptures from the Museum's collection, including the once-controversial Bacchante and Infant Faun, originally sculpted by Frederick William MacMonnies[9] in 1894. and donated to the Boston Public Library for display in its courtyard fountain. Persistent outcries from religious and temperance groups who claimed that "Bacchante" promoted drinking and indecency pressured the donor to withdraw the gift in 1897. The Museum's full-sized replica was produced in 1901 by MacMonnies' studio under the sculptor's personal supervision, and was acquired for the Museum by a prominent Boston philanthropist in 1910.

Several galleries are devoted to art by Western Hemisphere artists of the 20th century. Industrial designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Eva Zeisel, Eliot Noyes, and Russel Wright are represented in a gallery devoted to products designed for mass production.

The 12,000-square-foot glass-enclosed Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard features Dale Chihuly's 42.5 feet (13.0 m) high glass sculpture, Lime Green Icicle Tower, the New American Café, and access to the Gund Gallery exhibit space.[10][11]

Collection and exhibits[edit]

"Ascension" by John Singleton Copley

Some highlights of the MFA's collection include:

Highlights from the American collection[edit]

Gilbert Stuart, Portrait of George Washington, 1796

Highlights from the European collection[edit]

Peter Paul Rubens, Ahmed III al-Hafsi, Sultan of Tunis , 1613-1614
Claude Monet, Japanese Bridge and the Water-Lily Pond, 1900
European paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Fine Arts

More collection highlights[edit]

  • Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa
  • Art of Europe
  • Art of the Americas
  • Art of the Ancient World
  • Contemporary Art
  • Musical instruments
  • Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
  • Textile and Fashion Arts

The museum also maintains one of the largest on-line art catalogs in the world,[13] with information about over 346,000 items from its collection available on-line, many with an accompanying photograph.

As a result of the ongoing expansion of the museum, a number of standing exhibits are still in storage.

Notable curators[edit]



In a seven-year fundraising campaign between 2001 and 2008—for a new wing, the endowment, and operating expenses—the museum managed to pull in $504 million plus $165 million worth of art.[16] When rates on so-called auction rate securities—which large museums including the Museum of Fine Arts have tapped—skyrocketed during the credit crunch, the museum exited the auction rate market in 2008.[17] By 2009, $1.5m were trimmed from the budget, and the museum increased revenues from travelling exhibitions, which include shows it sent to the for-profit Bellagio Gallery in Las Vegas and a ten-year-old partnership with a branch museum in Nagoya, Japan.[18] In 2011, Moody's affirmed the museum's Aa2 rating on its $185 million in outstanding debt. The agency cited growing attendance, a large endowment, and positive cash flow as reasons to believe the museum's bonds would remain a stable bet.

Acquisitions and deaccessioning[edit]

The Museum of Fine Arts has an acquisitions endowment, which totals $141 million and provides about $6.6 million a year. In 2011, the museum put eight paintings by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Gauguin and others on sale at Sotheby's, bringing in a total of $21.6 million, to pay for Man at His Bath by Gustave Caillebotte at a cost reported to be more than $15 million.[19]


The Museum of Fine Arts led the movement to widen ranges for acceptable temperature and humidity levels, reducing energy consumption and costs but still providing maximum protection, and pioneered the use of reusable shipping crates with adjustable interiors to accommodate paintings or objects of varying sizes.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Natasha. "John Singer Sargent Virtual Gallery". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  2. ^ "An announcement was made..." ( The Brickbuilder (Boston, MA: Rodgers & Manson) 8 (12): 237. December 1899. Retrieved 7 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "Architectural History - Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved March 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ "The William Morris Hunt Memorial Library, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  5. ^ "I''talian Peasant Boy'', 1866, permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, gift of George Peabody Gardner". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  6. ^ a b John Stephen Dwyer (2010-02-27). "A Museum Expansion Fact Sheet". Retrieved 2012-12-17. 
  7. ^ Byrne, Matt (November 21, 2010). "Public gets its turn to see the new wing at the MFA". The Boston Globe. 
  8. ^ "Art of the Americas". Museum of Fine Arts. Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  9. ^ "Bacchante and Infant Faun | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston". Retrieved 2012-04-09. 
  10. ^ "Lime Green Icicle Tower". Museum of Fine Arts. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  11. ^ Werner, Tommy (January 2014). "Best Museum Restaurants in the U.S.". Food & Wine. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Announces Major Gift from Rothschild Heirs, Including Family Treasures Recovered from Austria after WWII." Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 22 February 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  13. ^
  14. ^ G., Resignation of Mr. FitzRoy Carrington, Curator of the Department of Prints (December 1, 1921), Museum of Fine Arts Bulletin, Volume 19, p71. retrieved 1/21/2014
  15. ^ Sorensen, Lee (ed.). "Constable, W[illiam] G[eorge]". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 11 February 2014. 
  16. ^ Judith H. Dobrzynski (November 10, 2010), Boston Museum Grows by Casting a Wide Net The New York Times.
  17. ^ Matt Krantz (April 17, 2008), Credit crisis forces museums to be creative USA Today.
  18. ^ Jason Edward Kaufman (January 8, 2009), How the richest US museums are weathering the storm The Art Newspaper.
  19. ^ Judith H. Dobrzynski (March 14, 2012), "How an Acquisition Fund Burnishes Reputations". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Tanya Mohn (March 19, 2014), After the Exhibition, Finding New Uses for Displays New York Times.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°20′21″N 71°05′39″W / 42.33917°N 71.09417°W / 42.33917; -71.09417