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St. Louis Art Museum

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Title: St. Louis Art Museum  
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Subject: Kenneth Noland, St. Louis, World's fair, Oscar E. Berninghaus, Panoramic painting, The May Department Stores Company, John Martin (painter), William Greenleaf Eliot, Brigido Lara, John Frederick Kensett
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St. Louis Art Museum

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The Saint Louis Art Museum is one of the principal U.S. art museums, 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]

Located in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, the Museum's three-story building was constructed as the Palace of the Fine Arts for the 1904 World's Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Architect Cass Gilbert was inspired by the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Italy.[2]

In 2005, the British architect Sir David Chipperfield was selected to design a major addition to the Museum. It added 224,000 square feet (20,800 m2), including aboveground gallery space and underground parking. Construction began in 2009, with completion planned for 2013. Michel Desvigne has been selected as landscape architect.

In addition to the featured exhibitions, the Museum offers rotating exhibitions and installations. These include the Currents series, which showcases contemporary artists, as well as regular exhibitions of new media art and works on paper.[3]


The Saint Louis Art Museum began in 1881 as the Saint Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent entity within Washington University in St. Louis. Originally housed in a building in downtown St. Louis, the Museum moved to its current home in Forest Park after the 1904 World's Fair.[4]

The Forest Park building, begun in 1902 and completed in 1903, was initially designed by Cass Gilbert as the main building of the Palace of Fine Arts for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

In 1909 the Museum separated from Washington University and was renamed the City Art Museum. An organizing board was assigned to take control in 1912.[4]

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

Following a vote in St. Louis City and County, efforts to secure the Museum's financial future led to the creation in 1971 of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD). This doubled the tax rate that supported the institutions[5] that Halsey Cooley Ives, the first Director of the Museum, had arranged in 1908.[6] County residents began paying the tax as well, so the Museum's name was changed again, in 1972, to the Saint Louis Art Museum.[5]

Donations from individuals and public associations, sales in the Museum Shop, and foundation support have allowed the Museum to care for and expand its collection of paintings, sculptures, cultural objects, and ancient masterpieces from all corners of the world.[4]


Plans to expand the Museum were included in the Museum's 2000 Strategic Plan and the 1995 Forest Park Master Plan. The expansion will include more than 224,000 square feet (20,800 m2) of gallery space, including an underground garage, within the lease lines of the property. The project cost is $130.5 million, along with a $31.2 million endowment to support the incremental costs of operating the larger facility.

The expansion and endowment are being privately funded through gifts to the capital campaign, foundation support, and proceeds from the sale of tax-exempt bonds. While tax proceeds continue to provide critical annual support for the Museum's operations, tax funds are not being used for the expansion.

In 2005, the Museum Board selected the noted British architect Sir David Chipperfield to design the expansion; Michel Desvigne was appointed landscape architect. The St. Louis-based firm, Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum (HOK) is 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 models of the new building has since been on display in the museum's Main Hall. Citing the declining state of the economy in 2008, the museum announced that it would delay the start of the then $125 million expansion.[7] The project officially broke ground in early 2010 and was completed in 2013.[8] The Museum remained open during construction.[9]


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, and Van Gogh. The museum's particularly strong collection of 20th-century German paintings includes the world's largest Max Beckmann collection. 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.[10] The collection also includes Chuck Close's Keith (1970).[11]

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.[12] Its collection of American artists includes the largest U.S.-museum collection of paintings by George Caleb Bingham.

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.[13]


  • Art classes for children, adults, and teachers. Each costs about $10–$200.
  • Richardson Memorial Library, one of the largest centers for the history and documentation of art in the Midwest, holding more than 100,000 volumes and the Museum's archives. Both can be searched through their online catalog.[14][3]
  • Resource Center, a loan collection of educational materials circulated through the Museum's nine satellite resource centers in Missouri.[3]
  • Free guided tours for groups led by trained docents.[3]


More information

  • Saint Louis Art Museum 2004, Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collection, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, Mo.
  • Saint Louis Art Museum 1987, Saint Louis Art Museum, An Architectural History, Fall Bulletin, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO.
  • Stevens, Walter B. (ed.) 1915, Halsey Cooley Ives, LL.D. 1847–1911; Founder of the St. Louis School of Fine Arts; First Director of the City Art Museum of St. Louis, Ives Memorial Society, Saint Louis, MO
  • Visitor Guide (brochure), Saint Louis Museum of Art, 2005.
  • Washington University of Saint Louis, Student Life, 2006, Buried Treasure:University Owned Mummy Kept at Saint Louis Museum.

External links

  • Saint Louis Art Museum website
  • Museum Building Archive
  • Museum Expansion

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