Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

Show Map

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the largest museums in the United States, attracting over one million visitors a year. It contains over 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas. It is also the 54th most visited art museum in the world, as of 2010.

The museum was founded in 1870 and its current location dates to 1909. In addition to its curatorial undertakings, 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 current director of the museum is Malcolm Rogers.



The Museum was founded in 1870 and opened in 1876, with a large portion of its collection taken from the Boston Athenaeum 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.

Originally located in a highly ornamented brick Gothic Revival building designed by John Hubbard Sturgis and Charles Brigham, located on Copley Square in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. The Copley Square building was notable for its large-scale use of architectural terra cotta in the United States. The Museum moved to its current building in 1909 on Huntington Avenue, Boston's "Avenue of the Arts".


The museum's present building was commenced in 1907, when 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. The first section of Lowell’s neoclassical design was completed in 1909, and featured a 500 ft façade of cut granite along Huntington Avenue, the grand rotunda, and the associated exhibition galleries. Mrs. Robert Dawson Evans then funded the entire cost of building the next section of the museum’s master plan. This wing along the Back Bay Fens, opened in 1915 and houses painting galleries. 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 1968 and the Norma Jean Calderwood Garden Court and Terrace in 1997. This wing now houses the museum's cafe, restaurant, and gift shop as well as exhibition space.

The libraries at the Museum of Fine Arts house an extensive collection of 320,000 items. The William Morris Hunt Memorial Library is named in honor of the Vermont native and Boston painter and arts teacher, many of whose works are in the museum's permanent collection. Among the museum's holdings of Hunt's canvases is the 1866 Italian Peasant Boy.

2000s expansion

In the mid-2000s, the museum embarked on a major renovation project that has included the construction of a new Art of the Americas Wing, showcasing art from North, South, and Central America. The expansion included redesigned and expanded education facilities, and extensive renovations of its European and Classical galleries, visitor services, and conservation facilities. The entire expansion increased the size of the MFA by 28% with an additional 133500 sqft of space.

Art of the Americas Wing

The Art of the Americas Wing was 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.

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, photography, and works by John Singer Sargent. In the latter gallery, Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" is symmetrically flanked by the tall ceramic vases depicted in the painting. The wing's glass-walled outer hallways display several sculptures from the Museum's collection, including the original Bacchante and Infant Faun sculpted by Frederick William MacMonnies for the garden court of the Boston Public Library.

Groundbreaking for the Art of the Americas Wing, which features art from North, South, and Central America, took place in 2006; In the process, the present garden courtyard was transformed into a climate-controlled year-round glass enclosure. 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.<ref name="mefs"/> 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 accesses 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."

Collection and exhibits

Some highlights of the MFA's collection include:

  • Egyptian artifacts including sculptures, sarcophagi, and jewelry.
  • French impressionist and post-impressionist works including Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? as well as works by Manet, Renoir, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and many others.
  • 18th and 19th century American art, including many works by John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.
  • Extensive collection of Chinese painting, calligraphy and imperial Chinese art, including some of the most treasured paintings in Chinese history.
  • The largest museum collection of Japanese works under one roof in the world outside of Japan, including the Edward S. Morse collection of 5,000 pieces of Japanese pottery.
  • the Gund Gallery which hosts temporary exhibits while a Japanese garden provides a quiet, contemplative space outside the museum itself.

Collection Highlights

More Collection Highlights

  • 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 at, 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

  • Sylvester Rosa Koehler (1837–1900) First Curator of Prints
  • Fitzroy Carrington (born 1869) Curator of prints
  • William George Constable (1887–1976), Curator
  • Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908) – Curator of Oriental Art (1890–1896)
  • Okakura Kakuzō (1863–1913) – Curator of Oriental Art (1904–1913)
  • Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947) – Curator of Oriental Art
  • Robert Treat Paine (d. 1965) – Curator of Japanese Art (1963–1965)
  • Jonathan Leo Fairbanks (1933-present)- Katharine Lane Weems Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture (1970-1999)
  • Anne Nishimura Morse (1956–present)-William and Helen Pounds Senior Curator of Japanese Art (1985–present)


The MFA is open seven days a week. Admission to the museum is charged at most times, but is by donation on Wednesdays after 4 p.m. Admission includes a free repeat visit within ten days. The museum is open late, until 9:45 p.m., on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Children under 17 are admitted free, except during school hours. The MFA's University Membership program offers area college students free admission with a valid college photo ID.

See also

  • School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts

External links