museums of art

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

museums of art

museums of art, institutions or buildings where works of art are kept for display or safekeeping. The word museum derives from the Greek mouseion, meaning temple to the works of the Muses. This article is chiefly concerned with museums of art in the Western Hemisphere.

The United States

The foremost repositories of art in the U.S. include, in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the richest and most comprehensive American collection of world art (much of the museum's superb medieval collection is housed separately in the Cloisters); the Museum of Modern Art; the Frick Collection, the dwelling and outstanding acquisitions of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the American Folk Art Museum; the Guggenheim Museum, exhibiting primarily the works of contemporary European and American artists; the Pierpont Morgan Library, housing a vast number of important illuminated manuscripts; the Hispanic Society Gallery; the New-York Historical Society, noted for its 19th-century American paintings and Audubon collection; the Brooklyn Museum, strong in Egyptian and American art; and the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.

In Boston the Museum of Fine Arts houses a major collection of American paintings, including the largest number of works by Copley and Stuart in the nation and a magnificent collection of East Asian art; and the Gardner Museum (see under Gardner, Isabella Stewart) holds a remarkable private collection in an unusual setting. In Cambridge, Mass., the Fogg Museum of Art of Harvard owns a great number of American works and has fine Italian art and graphic arts collections.

In Washington, D.C. the Smithsonian Institution operates several major art galleries: the Freer Gallery of Art, notable for its many works by Whistler and its East Asian art collection; the National Museum of American Art and the adjoining National Portrait Gallery; The National Museum of African Art; the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, a collection of Asian art; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, devoted to modern art; and the Renwick Gallery of American design. The National Gallery of Art, an affiliated institution, houses Washington's principal collection of European and American art in two buildings. Other major collections in Washington include those of the Corcoran Gallery of Art (now part of the National Gallery; see under Corcoran, William Wilson) and the Phillips Collection, both of which are strong in American works.

Other collections of note in the eastern United States include the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, N.Y.); the Worcester (Mass.) Art Museum; the Wadsworth Athenaeum (Hartford, Conn.); the Yale Univ. Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.) and its collection of British art; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, noted for its many works by Eakins (both: Philadelphia); the Barnes Collection (Merion, Pa.), a superb private gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist works; the Carnegie Institute (Pittsburgh); and the Walters Art Gallery (Baltimore).

In the Midwest and South the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Ark., and the museums and galleries of Detroit, Columbus (Ohio), Toledo, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Kansas City (Mo.), and New Orleans are outstanding. The major collections in the West include the Gilcrease Institute (Tulsa, Okla.), the Dallas Museum of Art, the Kimbell Museum (Fort Worth, Tex.), the Huntington Library and Art Gallery (San Marino, Calif.), the Los Angeles County Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (both: Los Angeles), the Getty Center (Brentwood, Calif.), and the San Francisco Museum of Art and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Canada and Mexico

The National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) holds that country's foremost public art collection. In Mexico City the major collections are the Palace of Fine Art and the National Museum of Anthropology, which houses a vast treasure of Mexican art and important archaeological discoveries as well as a superb ethnographic collection.

Great Britain and Ireland

The richest British collections are housed in the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Wallace Collection (see under Wallace, Sir Richard), and Sir John Soane's Museum (all: London); the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford); the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge); the National Gallery of Scotland (Edinburgh); and the Glasgow Art Galleries and Museum (Glasgow). The Royal Collection at Windsor Castle is especially noted for its old master drawings. In Ireland the most important collections include the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Museum of Ireland, and the Trinity College Library (all: Dublin).

Continental Europe

The major European museums and galleries include: Austria—Academy of Fine Arts, Art Historical Museum, Liechtenstein Gallery, Albertina, National Library, and the Czernin Collection (all: Vienna); Belgium—the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Old Museum (both: Brussels), and the Museum of Fine Arts (Antwerp); France—the Louvre, the Musée D'Orsay, the Pompidou Center, the Bibliothèque nationale, and Cluny, Picasso, Rodin, Carnavalet, Petit-Palais, and Guimet museums (all: Paris), the Versailles Museum and the local institutions of Nantes, Chantilly, Marseilles, and other cities.

A great number of German museums were destroyed during World War II. Most of the outstanding collections in Berlin, Munich, and Dresden were saved, and among the smaller surviving collections are those in the galleries of Augsburg, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt-am-Main, Freiburg, Hanover, Leipzig, Nuremberg, Stuttgart, and Trier. Among other museums in Europe are: Greece—the Acropolis Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the National Archaeological Museum (all: Athens); Italy—Uffizi, the Pitti Palace, The Academy art museum, and the Bargello (all: Florence), the Vatican, Lateran, Barberini, Farnese, and Borghese palaces (all: Rome), the Academy of Fine Arts and the Scuola de San Rocco (both: Venice), the Brera Palace (Milan), the Cathedral Museum (Siena), and the National Museum (Naples).

Other European museums include: Netherlands—Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), the Mauritshuis (The Hague), and the Groninger Museum of Art (Groningen); Portugal—National Museum (Lisbon); Scandinavia—Royal Academy of Arts and National Museum (both: Copenhagen) and the National Museum and State Historical Museum (both: Stockholm); Spain—the Prado, the Armería, the Escorial (all: Madrid) and the El Greco Museum (Toledo); Switzerland—Swiss National Museum (Zürich) and the Art Museum (Basel). In İstanbul, Turkey, the art of Babylon, Assyria, and Byzantium may be seen in the archaeological museums. Among the great Russian collections are those housed in the Hermitage (St. Petersburg) and the Tretyakov Gallery and Museum of Western Art (both: Moscow).

Middle East and Asia

In Egypt the Cairo Museum excels in the ancient art of that country. The Tehran Museum and the Government Collections in Tehran hold many of the most important Persian art treasures. The Calcutta Museum exhibits the art of India. In Japan in the National Museum (Tokyo), the Kyoto Museum, and the collections of Shoso-in and the National Museum (both: Nara), all periods of Japanese art are well represented.

See K. Schubert, The Curator's Egg: The Evolution of the Museum Concept from the French Revolution to the Present Day (2000, repr. 2011); A. McClellan, The Art Museum from Boullé to Bilbao (2008); C. Paul, The First Museums of Art: The Birth of an Institution in 18th- and Early-19th-Century Europe (2012).

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