City Cast

Houston's Oldest Art Museum

Brooke Lewis
Posted on August 22
Museum attendees gaze at beautiful artwork on the walls.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the oldest art museum in Texas. (The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston/Facebook)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the perfect place to escape the heat and gaze at some of the finest art work in the world. Whether you’re there for happy hour, free Thursdays, a new exhibition, or to watch a movie, the museum is a well-known art oasis for Houstonians. Let’s learn more about the oldest art museum in the state.

The Bright Idea

Emma Richardson Cherry and a group of women established the Public School Art League in 1900, which pushed for art and culture engagement in public schools. The group also hosted art classes, lectures, and exhibitions in the Scanlan building downtown. The organization was renamed Houston Art League in 1913 and members began their push to establish a public art museum. Hermann estate trustees donated a plot of land at South Main and Montrose for the museum, which opened to the public on April 12, 1924.

The Museum Expands

At first, the museum mainly showcased local artists. It also offered classes in painting, sculpture, and other works starting in 1927. When Le Malone became the museum’s first full-time director in 1954, he started showcasing works from across the country and abroad. Ima Hogg, known as the “First Lady of Texas,” donated her mansion and collection of American paintings and decorative arts to the museum in 1957. Her donation is one of the most recognizable museum sites today, Bayou Bend. James Johnson Sweeney, former director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, also revolutionized the museum. He was known for his dramatic installations, constructing a pool outdoors to showcase a Picasso exhibit. He also expanded the museum’s collection of modern and non-European art. In the 1970s and 1980s, the museum added the 41,000 square-foot Glassell art school and the Sculpture Garden. The museum had collected more than 20,000 works of art by the end of the 1980s.

The Museum Today

The museum remains a place dedicated to showcasing international art with current exhibits focusing on Indian, Islamic, and South African art. Make sure to check out the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building, which houses the museum’s international collections of modern and contemporary art. Catch a film in one of the museum’s two theaters. Finally, mark your calendar because every Thursday the museum has free admission and stays open late until 9 p.m.

Now that you've added MFAH to your list of museums, here are some more worth checking out around town. [City Cast Houston 🎧]

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