Saint Louis Art Museum

Saint Louis Art Museum
Location Forest Park, St. Louis Missouri
Coordinates 38°38′22″N 90°17′40″W / 38.63944°N 90.29444°W / 38.63944; -90.29444Coordinates: 38°38′22″N 90°17′40″W / 38.63944°N 90.29444°W / 38.63944; -90.29444
Built 1904
Built for 1904 World's Fair
Type Structure
Reference no. 21
Location in St. Louis
St. Louis Art Museum
The statue "The Apotheosis of St. Louis" by Charles Henry Niehaus was the original symbol for the city

The Saint Louis Art Museum is one of the principal U.S. art museums, with paintings, sculptures, cultural objects, and ancient masterpieces from all corners of the world. Its three-story building stands in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, where it is visited by up to a half million people every year. Admission is free through a subsidy from the cultural tax district for St. Louis City and County.[1]

In addition to the featured exhibitions, the museum offers rotating exhibitions and installations. These include the Currents series, which features contemporary artists, as well as regular exhibitions of new media art and works on paper.[2]


The museum was founded in 1881 as the Saint Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent entity within Washington University in St. Louis, housed in a downtown building.[3] The building was originally built by Wayman Crow as a memorial to honor his son, Wayman Crow, Jr. Crow employed Boston architects Peabody & Stearns to design the building located at 19th and Lucas Place (now Locust Street). The school, led by directory Halsey C. Ives, educated two generations of St. Louis artists and craftspeople and offered studio and art history classes supported by a museum collection. After the school moved to Washington University's campus and the museum moved to Forest Park, the building fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1919.[4]

The museum moved after the 1904 World's Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, to the Palace of Fine Arts, built for the fair from 1902 to 1903. The building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert, who took inspiration from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy.[5] The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum remained part of Washington University, and the collection was lent to the Saint Louis Art Museum for several years.[6]

In 1908, the museum's first director, Halsey Cooley Ives, arranged for a municipal tax to support the museum.[7] The following year, the museum separated from Washington University and was renamed the City Art Museum. An organizing board was assigned to take control in 1912.[8]

During the 1950s, the museum added an extension to include an auditorium for films, concerts and lectures.

In 1971, efforts to secure the museum's financial future led voters in St. Louis City and County to approve the creation of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD). This expanded the tax base for the 1908 tax to include St. Louis County.[9] In 1972, the museum was again renamed, to the Saint Louis Art Museum.[9]

Today, the museum is supported financially by the tax, donations from individuals and public associations, sales in the Museum Shop, and foundation support.[10]


Plans to expand the museum, which existed in the 1995 Forest Park Master Plan and the museum's 2000 Strategic Plan, began in earnest in 2005, when the museum board selected the noted British architect Sir David Chipperfield to design the expansion; Michel Desvigne was selected as landscape architect. The St. Louis-based firm, Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum (HOK) was the architect of record to work with the construction team.

On November 5, 2007, museum officials released the design plans to the public and hosted public conversations about those plans. A model of the new building was displayed in the museum's Sculpture Hall throughout the construction project. In 2008, citing the declining state of the economy, the museum announced that it would delay the start of the expansion, whose cost was then estimated at $125 million.[11]

Construction began in 2009; the museum remained open.[12][13] The expansion added more than 224,000 square feet (20,800 m2) of gallery space, including an underground garage, within the lease lines of the property. Money for the project was raised through private gifts to the capital campaign from individuals, foundations and corporations, and from proceeds from the sale of tax-exempt bonds. The fundraising campaigned covered the $130-million cost of construction and a $31.2 million increase to the museum's endowment to support incremental costs of operating the larger facility. The expanded facility opened in the summer of 2013.


The collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum contains more than 30,000 art works dating from antiquity to the present. The collection is divided into eleven areas:

  1. African
  2. American
  3. Ancient and Islamic
  4. Asian
  5. Contemporary
  6. Decorative Arts and Design
  7. European
  8. Modern
  9. Oceanic
  10. Mesoamerican and American Indian
  11. Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

The modern art collection includes works by the European masters Matisse, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso, Giambattista Pittoni and Van Gogh. The museum's particularly strong collection of 20th-century German paintings includes the world's largest Max Beckmann collection, which includes Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery. In recent years, the museum has been actively acquiring post-war German art to complement its Beckmanns, such as works by Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Martin Kippenberger and others.[12] The collection also includes Chuck Close's Keith (1970).[14]

The collections of Oceanic and Mesoamerican works, as well as handwoven Turkish rugs, are among the finest in the world. The museum holds the Egyptian mummy Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, and two mummies on loan from Washington University.[15] Its collection of American artists includes the largest U.S.-museum collection of paintings by George Caleb Bingham.

The collection contains at least six pieces that Nazis confiscated from their own museums as degenerate.[16] These include Max Beckmann’s “Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery” which came to the museum through a New York art dealer, Curt Valentin, who specialized in Nazi confiscations, and Matisse's “Bathers with a Turtle” which Joseph Pulitzer purchased at the Galerie Fischer auction held in the Grand Hôtel National, Lucerne, Switzerland, June 30, 1939.[16][17][18]

In the context of the museum's 2013 expansion, British artist Andy Goldsworthy created Stone Sea, a site-specific work for a narrow space between the old and new buildings. Twenty-five tightly packed, ten-foot-high arches made of native limestone rise in a sunken courtyard. The artist was inspired by the fact that the sedimentary rock was formed when the region was a shallow sea in Prehistoric times.[12]



  1. Saint Louis Art Museum Visitor Guide (2007)
  2. 1 2 3 4 Saint Louis Art Museum Web Site
  3. Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collection (2004), p. 8
  4. St. Louis Public Library. "The St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts – Wellspring of St. Louis Arts". St. Louis Public Library. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  5. Saint Louis Art Museum, An Architectural History (1987), p. 8
  6. "About the collection | Kemper Art Museum". Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  7. Stevens, Walter B. Page 30
  8. Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collection (2004), p. 10
  9. 1 2 Saint Louis Art Museum, An Architectural History, (1987), Page 26
  10. Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collection (2004), pp. 4–16
  11. David Itzkoff ( November 6, 2008), In Tough Times, St. Louis Museum Delays Expansion New York Times.
  12. 1 2 3 Javier Pes (June 20, 2013), A ‘quiet and reserved’ new wing for Saint Louis Art Museum The Art Newspaper.
  13. "Saint Louis Art Museum: Expansion". Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  14. Saint Louis Art Museum, Handbook of the Collection (2004), p. 299
  15. Washington University of Saint Louis, Student Life, 2006
  16. 1 2 Hunn,David. "How a French masterpiece stolen by Nazis came to St. Louis" St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 22, 2014
  17. Stein,Laurie."The History and Reception of Matisse's Bathers with Turtle in Germany, 1908-1939" St. Louis: The Saint Louis Art Museum, 1998
  19. "Richardson Library Books & Periodicals". Retrieved 2012-10-14.

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