Founded in 1900, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's collection numbers more than 65,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.
Admission is free all day on Thursdays.
The museum’s Arts of Japan Gallery opened in February 2012, marking the completion of the MFAH’s Arts of Asia galleries in the Caroline Wiess Law Building. The new Arts of Japan Gallery space reflects a singularly Japanese aesthetic of beauty and quiet elegance. Custom-designed Toshiba LED lighting illuminates artworks displayed in vitrine cases designed by Glasbau Hahn (of Germany). The gallery showcases the museum’s permanent Japanese art collection and display loans and temporary exhibits from other collections.
Visitors should check in advance to see which collections are on view.
The masks, figures, hats, and knives in the museum´s collection span some 2,500 years, from Nigeria´s early Nok culture, the first in all of sub-Saharan Africa to produce sculpture, to the mid-1900s. The galleries showcase masks, figures, ceremonial objects, combs, furniture, and other types of objects from the regions south of the Sahara Desert, of which the most prolific art-producers are the Sudan, Guinea Coast, Equatorial Forest, and Southern Savanna. The African collection is strong in works from the Western Sudan and Guinea Coast regions, with a particular depth in materials from the Yoruba people, including a mother and child group and a female twin figure. An earthenware Nok head and torso of a female figure dates from 500 B.C.—A.D. 200.
The Glassell Collection of African Gold
Comprising more than 800 pieces, the Glassell Collection of African Gold contains exquisite works primarily from the royal courts of the Akan peoples of Ghana and Côte d´Ivoire. The MFAH is fortunate to have received the extensive collection of African gold formed by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Assembled over many years, the Glassell Collection is considered the finest of its kind anywhere in the world and is the only substantial collection of African gold in an American museum.
American Sculpture and Painting
A particular strength of American art at the MFAH is 19th-century landscape painting, with fine examples by Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and others reflecting the allure of the American wilderness. The post-Civil War period is well represented at the museum, with works by John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and Childe Hassam. The holdings in early-20th-century American art include wonderful Ashcan School paintings and important early abstract works. Paintings by Georgia O´Keeffe and other Taos artists are another highlight. The American galleries in the Beck Building surround a sculpture court that features works by Frederick William MacMonnies and Paul Manship.
Masterworks by Frederic Remington
The works in the MFAH collection highlight Remington´s achievements as the creator of an enduring archetype: the American cowboy. He mythologized the experience of America´s westward expansion. Many of Remington´s paintings chronicle the rapidly disappearing cultures of Native America. The collection was originally formed in the early 20th century by Will Hogg, Houston businessman and brother of Bayou Bend founder Ima Hogg.
The ancient Egyptian works include a spectacular polychrome coffin of Pedi-Osiris and a rare blue faience sculpture of the god Thoth as a baboon. Highlights from the group of ancient Near Eastern, Greek, and Roman works include an Assyrian relief sculpture, a magnificent Hellenistic bronze head of a god or hero, a Hellenistic gold wreath, and a monumental bronze sculpture of a Roman ruler.
The works of art range from a Chinese vessel made about 2400 B.C. to contemporary Japanese ceramics made in the 1990s. Among the Chinese works, a neolithic funerary jar, a 5th-century B.C. ritual vessel, and Tang dynasty tomb figures are particularly important. Significant Japanese holdings include a Jomon pot and a graveside sculpture from pre-Buddhist Japan. Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings showcase the rich painting traditions in those cultures. The arts of India gallery displays 100 artworks representing diverse subject matter and media from India’s unique regions and historic eras. Early relief sculptures from India portray Buddhist and Hindu gods, and rare, well-preserved Indian textiles rotate periodically with fine examples of Indian miniature painting.
In October 2010 the museum opened the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery to showcase its growing collection of Chinese works. Objects in the gallery, which was designed to reflect a distinct Chinese aesthetic, range from those created in the ancient Zhou and Shang dynasties to modern installations featuring video. Some of the important works include a 20th-century painting by Wu Changshi titled Flowering Vine and a carved limestone Avalokitesvara dating to between 557 and 618 A.D. The gallery will also feature site-specific works by major contemporary artists, the first of which is a monumental landscape titled Odyssey by Cai Guo-Qiang.
The Glassell Collection of Indonesian Gold
One of the largest gatherings of Indonesian gold displayed in an American museum, the collection was donated by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., Chairman Emeritus and Life Trustee of the MFAH. The collection contains rare and outstanding objects from the most important island cultures of Indonesia, where gold jewelry and ritual objects are crucial to the structure and meaning of life. Together with weaving and sculpture, gold is the medium used to express the culture´s most important beliefs, and it is the source of their most vital designs. Traditionally exchanged in the socially important rituals of gift-giving and receiving, in ancient times gold was also buried with the dead.
Bayou Bend Collection
Bayou Bend is particularly renowned for its outstanding furniture, which includes examples by John Townsend, John and Thomas Seymour, John Henry Belter, and Benjamin Latrobe. Other stellar works in the collection include paintings by John Singleton Copley, Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, and Thomas Sully; silver by Paul Revere, John Coney, and Samuel Kirk; prints by John James Audubon and Nathaniel Currier; and ceramics ranging from early slipware to the fashionable Tucker porcelain of the 19th century.
Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art
This collection, which consists of the finest examples of geometric abstraction in paintings, constructions, drawings, posters, and graphic materials by Brazil’s foremost artists of the post-World War II era, has long been regarded as a brilliant window into the seminal decades of Brazil’s modernization. Forerunners of abstract art in Brazil, including the first artist to embrace geometric abstraction, Cícero Dias (1907-2003) and the influential teacher Samson Flexor (1907-1971) are represented, as are major works by the most cutting-edge and avant-garde artists and groups active in the 1950s: the Grupo ruptura of São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro’s Grupo Frente. Artists from these groups include Waldemar Cordeiro (1925-1973) and Mauricio Nogueira Lima (Grupo ruptura); and the brothers César (1939-) and Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980) and Lygia Pape (1929-2004) from Grupo Frente. The collection is also strong in work from the Neo-concrete movement, with six major constructions by Lygia Clark (1920-1988). In addition, the collection features major artists who embraced constructive tenets yet worked independently of these groups, including Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), Mira Schendel (1919-1988), and Sergio Camargo (1930-1990).
The museum´s collection of modern and contemporary decorative arts focuses on the major decorative arts movements with examples of exceptional design, craftsmanship, and originality. Both handcrafted and industrially produced objects demonstrate the wide range of creative designs during the modern and contemporary periods. The collection is particularly strong in furniture designed by architects and in objects made with innovative materials. The MFAH owns a number of prototypes of furniture made by the original designers. The museum also has a concentration in 20th-century chairs, one of the most challenging and revealing design forms. The MFAH also has a superb collection of English silver, largely made in London between 1660 and 1760. The objects illustrate the history of English silver design during the prosperous period that saw the building of great, lavishly furnished houses.
The Helen Williams Drutt Collection
The Helen Williams Drutt Collection is recognized internationally for its depth and quality, and will be part of the MFAH collection in its entirety through purchase and donation. Drutt assembled a truly international collection, with some 57 artists from 17 countries being represented in her holdings. The core of the collection is comprised of American, German, and Dutch objects, but there also are significant holdings of Austrian, Scandinavian, Australian, British, Japanese, and Czech works. Studio jewelry is innovative and often experimental, with its roots in the movements of 20th-century art. Most of the objects in the Drutt Collection are one-of-a-kind works that redefined the concept of jewelry. The Drutt Collection features pieces that move beyond ornamentation and preciousness, using both traditional and avant-garde materials. Many of the pieces push the boundaries of traditional forms. Major museums around the world have exhibited the Drutt Collection, including the Montreal Museum of Decorative Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honolulu Academy of Art, Museum Bellerive, and the Stedelijk Museum. Selected works have been included in exhibitions as well as surveys worldwide over the past three decades.
European Painting and Sculpture
Early Christian art at the MFAH includes an important ivory figure of God the Father and a Late Gothic Virgin and Child by the workshop of Niclaus Weckman the Elder. Thanks largely to the vision and generosity of two great art collectors from the first half of the 20th century—Percy S. Straus and Samuel H. Kress—the museum´s collection is strong in Renaissance and Baroque art. Among the Renaissance highlights are Italian examples by Fra Angelico, Giovanni di Paolo, Sebastiano del Piombo, Antico, and Scarsellino, as well as Flemish masterpieces by Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. Baroque strengths include notable works by Orazio Gentileschi, Guido Reni, Philippe de Champaigne, Luca Giordano, Frans Hals, and Jan van Huysum.The 18th- and 19th-century galleries feature important works by Jean-Siméon Chardin, Anton Raphael Mengs, and Canaletto, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Francisco de Goya, William Adolphe Bouguereau, Camille Corot, and Théodore Rousseau.
The Blaffer Foundation Collection
The collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation was originally established by Houston art patron Sarah Campbell Blaffer (1885—1975). In 1993, the foundation agreed to place some of its finest works on long-term exhibition at the MFAH. Five galleries in the Beck Building are devoted to presenting this outstanding collection of European art. The highlights include works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Longhi, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and Jean-Baptiste Oudry.
This area of the collection features key works by Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Édouard Vuillard. Fine examples of early Modern painting include distinct canvases by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger.
The Beck Collection
The John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection focuses on the revolutionary Paris art movements of the late 19th and 20th centuries—from Impressionism and Pointillism to Fauvism and Cubism. Focusing on the artistic innovations of late-19th-century Paris, the Becks acquired remarkable examples of Impressionism, Post-Impressionist styles, and early Modernism. Among the highlights are paintings by Gustave Caillebotte, André Derain, Edgar Manet, Camille Pissarro, Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, and Pierre Bonnard. Mrs. Beck´s love for this period of art began in 1938, but it was not until the early 1960s that she began acquiring these modern masters. Following Mr. Beck´s death in 1974, Mrs. Beck lent her collection to the MFAH. Over the years, she gradually gave these paintings to the museum, completing this supremely generous gift with the balance of the collection in 1998. Mrs. Beck died in 2003, but her gift to the museum remains one of the largest, most important and most valuable in the museum´s history.
Latin American Art
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is strategically positioned to be an international leader in Latin American art. Since 1927, the museum has presented 34 exhibitions of Latin American art, 11 in the past 20 years. The museum´s collection includes more than 760 modern and contemporary Latin American works and more than 2,500 Pre-Columbian objects. Building on this momentum and commitment, in 2001 the MFAH became the home of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA). The center, the only one of its kind in the world, serves as both a curatorial department and a resource center within the museum.
Modern and Contemporary Art
Early Modern art, including Cubist works by Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger, as well as works by Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, and Piet Mondrian, are on view in the Beck Building. The story of Modern art continues in the Law Building, with rotating presentations of art of the mid-20th century. Art at mid-century is one of the MFAH´s outstanding strengths. The Abstract Expressionist collection deserves particular recognition, as it contains key works by Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Franz Kline. The next generation is also well represented, with paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland. Post-World War II sculpture includes examples by Picasso and Alexander Calder, and Assemblage can be studied through works by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. Other styles and approaches represented in the collection include Hard-Edge Abstraction (with examples by Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin), Pop Art (Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist), Minimalism (Donald Judd and Jo Baer), and current movements. Recently the collection has been enhanced by the addition of major works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Brice Marden, and other modern masters. The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden displays important sculpture by Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti, Louise Bourgeois, and other key figures.
The Art of Texas
Today the museum´s collection of Texas art consists of more than 2,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and photographs. The collection encompasses representations of the Texas landscape, spiritual and symbolic works, and examples of Modernism and Post-Modernism. These works testify to the rich and varied history of the art of Texas. Among the artists included are John Biggers, Rackstraw Downes, Dorothy Hood, and James Surls.
Native American Art
The Southwest component presents an unbroken visual history of the Pueblo peoples of northern Arizona and New Mexico from prehispanic times to the mid-20th century. It also includes works from the last 125 years made by the Navajo, the Apache, and other seminomadic peoples. Ceramics, kachina dolls, watercolors, textiles, baskets, stone and silver jewelry, and various kinds of wooden objects are represented. Highlights of the ceramics are a rare, unbroken Mimbres jar, and a large black-on-black jar made by the most famous of the modern Pueblo potters, Maria and Julian Martinez. Of special significance are the 130 kachina dolls made between 1900 and 1933 and 95 works from the school of Native American painters of the 1920s and 1930s.
The collection´s primary strength is in Melanesian works, particularly from the Sepik River region of New Guinea, with a secondary strength in Australian bark paintings. The presence of the sea has shaped the cultures of Oceania, with the exception of inland peoples on the larger islands. While the ocean inspires the imagery of these cultures, it simultaneously restricts the availability of natural resources. In Melanesia, religion is based on the belief that the universe is governed by the invisible forces of nature. Ancestors are revered because their souls are thought to influence the living. Imbued with spiritual power, Melanesian religious objects, implements of war, and personal adornments are distinguished by visually potent designs.
The collection illustrates the evolution of early-20th-century photographic styles, beginning with photographs that imitate romantic painting styles, such as Edward Steichen´s early images. From the same period, experiments in abstract photography include works by Alvin Langdon Coburn, Christian Schad, Moholy-Nagy, and Man Ray. The MFAH has especially important works made in the 1920s and 1930s by American, French, English, German, Czech, and Soviet artists. Emblematic examples by such masters as Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Brassaï, André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Heartfield, Josef Sudek, and Alexander Rodchenko trace the distinctive development of modern styles from country to country. American documentary is well represented by artists such as Lewis W. Hine, W. Eugene Smith, Roy DeCarava, James VanDerZee, and Ansel Adams. The MFAH´s collection is strongest in the new approaches to photography that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, exemplified by Robert Frank, John Baldessari, Robert Cumming, and Lorna Simpson. The museum has a notable collection of Italian photography and is developing a concentration in Japanese photography. The collection was enhanced by the acquisition in 2002 of 3,760 new images from the renowned collector Manfred Heiting.
The greatest strength of the museum´s Pre-Columbian collection lies in works of the Maya and the cultures of West Mexico. Of particular note are Maya ceramic vessels, limestone reliefs, and exquisite works in jadeite and flint. Other highlights from Mesoamerica include a large stone Aztec figure, a rare Ulúa marble vase, and an elaborate lid for a Teotihuacán incense burner. Examples from other regions include volcanic stone carvings from Costa Rica, ceramic vessels from coastal Peru, and beautiful small objects for personal use made of gold, silver, and inlaid bone and wood.
The Glassell Collection of Pre-Columbian Gold
The peoples of ancient America valued gold for its spiritual power rather than for its worth. Gold was believed to be the flesh of the gods and to possess the energy of the sun.This rare collection of Pre-Columbian gold, donated by Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., Chairman Emeritus and Life Trustee of the MFAH, includes gold objects that were created as personal ornaments to adorn the face and body, as well as ritual objects, like drinking cups for ceremonies and masks for burials.
Prints and Drawings
Of particular interest are 100 early German woodcuts and engravings, including 35 by Albrecht Dürer, and groups of prints by Rembrandt and by Jacques Bellange. Rare impressions include works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Canaletto, and Camille Pissarro; the deluxe edition of Max Klinger´s portfolio A Love; and an early impression of Edvard Munch´s 1895 Self-Portrait. Master drawings date from the 17th century to the present and include works by Edgar Degas, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Paul Klee, Adolphe Menzel, Pablo Picasso, and Odilon Redon. American works on paper include more than 1,500 wood engravings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Nast, and Frederic Remington from the 1860s—70s. In the mid-1990s the MFAH began to acquire significant drawings by Abstract Expressionist painters, including 12 by Jackson Pollock and 15 by Robert Motherwell, as well as examples by William Baziotes, James Brooks, Arshile Gorky, Adolph Gottlieb, Franz Kline, and Richard Pousette-Dart. Another focus is works on paper by 20th-century sculptors, among them Aristide Maillol and David Smith. The core of the contemporary collection is a large group of prints made in the United States and Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, with works by artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Enzo Cucchi, Eric Fischl, David Rabinowitch, and James Turrell. Since 2000, the museum has actively acquired major works on paper by Jasper Johns.
The Rienzi collection includes 18th-century English ceramics, furniture and portraiture, and small, precious objects by jewelers such as Jean Schlumberger and David Webb. The centerpiece of the picture hall is an early-19th-century white marble sculpture of the Roman goddess Venus, attributed to Giovanni Pisani and Brothers. Other highlights include Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (1638—40) by Guido Reni and a sumptuous portrait of Lady Blount (1760s) by George Romney.
Textiles and Costume
Holdings reflect the tastes of Houston´s keenly fashionable women and include designers such as Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta. In addition, the museum´s selection of English and haute-couture French fashions contains important examples from Liberty, Vivienne Westwood, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and Madame Grès. The textiles and costume department also oversees a large collection of historical American works, including quilts, needlework, and clothing, that are housed at the Bayou Bend Collection. In addition, the museum owns superb examples of non-Western textiles and costumes, especially Indian and Indonesian works. Because fabric is particularly vulnerable to light, the MFAH presents textiles and costumes in short-term installations.
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