The mission of the Rose City Art Museum is to serve the public by providing access to art of enduring quality, by educating a diverse audience about art and by collecting and preserving a wide range of art for the enrichment of present and future generations. The museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, with accreditation through 2024.
Originally incorporated as the Rose City Art Association, the museum’s roots date to 1892. Late that year seven prominent business and cultural leaders in the city created the association so as to start a high-quality art museum for a city approaching 50,000 residents. Henry Corbett donated $10,000 to the association that funded the museum’s first collection (the Corbett Collection), which consisted of one hundred plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures. The individual pieces of the collection were selected by Winslow B. Ayer and his wife during a trip to Europe. They had been advised by curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston prior to the trip on what pieces to select. The collection was originally displayed at the Multnomah County Library located at Southwest Seventh and Stark streets in Downtown.
By the time of the Lewis & Clark Exposition held in Rose City in 1905, the Rose City Art Museum had outgrown its location in the public library and had moved into its own building at SW 5th and Taylor. The first exhibition in the new building featured watercolors and paintings that had come to Rose City as part of the 1905 Exposition. Curator Henrietta H. Failing (the niece of founder Henry Failing) organized the exhibition with New England artist Frank Vincent DuMond.
Three years later, in 1908, the museum acquired its first original piece of art, “Afternoon Sky, Harney Desert” by American impressionist painter Childe Hassam, who frequented Malheur and Harney counties in Eastern Oregon with his friend, C.E.S. Wood.
Anna Belle Crocker succeeded Henrietta Failing as curator of the museum in 1909. She would remain at the museum until her retirement in 1936. Crocker became one of the Rose City Art Museum’s most important early figures. She was also the first head of the Museum Art School, which opened in 1909 and is now the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
In late 1913, the museum hosted one of its most important early exhibitions. The exhibition featured artwork that had been on display earlier that year at the famous 1913 New York Armory Show, which introduced American audiences to modern art. The exhibition included works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Manet, Renoir, and the controversial Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp.
The museum continued to grow during the years following World War I. In the 1920s, the museum hosted two memorable exhibitions organized by Sally Lewis, the daughter of a prominent Rose City family. Lewis had befriended many well-known artists on trips to New York and Europe. In 1923, Lewis organized an exhibition at the museum that included 44 paintings by Picasso, Matisse, André Derain and American modernists, such as Maurice Prendergast, Charles Burchfield, and Max Weber. She was also one of 22 patrons who purchased Derain’s Tree for the museum’s permanent collection. The success of her first exhibition led to her second, more daring endeavor a year later that juxtaposed paintings, drawings, and sculptures from Europe with African masks. Among the sculptures was Brâncuși’s A Muse, which Lewis owned and donated to the museum in 1959.
The museum’s final location opened to the public on November 18, 1932, at the corner of SW Park Avenue and Jefferson Street. The building, designed by noted Rose City architect Pietro Belluschi, is situated along downtown Rose City’s South Park Blocks and remains a landmark in the city’s Cultural District. It was constructed with a lead gift of $100,000 from Winslow B. Ayer, the same patron who selected the museum’s collection of plaster casts 40 years earlier. For this reason, the original portion of today’s larger main building is referred to as the Ayer Wing.
Barely six years later, construction began on a new wing to expand the main building. The Hirsch Wing, also designed by Pietro Belluschi, was funded largely through the bequest of Ella Hirsch in honor of her parents, Solomon and Josephine Hirsch. The new wing opened on September 15, 1939 and doubled the museum’s gallery space.
In 1942, the Rose City Art Museum celebrated a subdued 50th Anniversary due to World War II. But the following year in 1943, staff completed the museum’s first full inventory, which counted a permanent collection of 3,300 objects and 750 works on long-term loan.
The next decade was distinguished by a series of record-setting exhibitions. In 1956, nearly 55,000 visitors came to the museum during the six-week run of an exhibition featuring paintings from the collection of Walter Chrysler. The exhibition was organized by the Rose City Art Museum and toured nine other cities. More than 80,000 people visited for a Vincent van Gogh exhibition in 1959, the proceeds from which were used to purchase Water Lilies by Claude Monet. The 1950s also witnessed the creation of the museum’s Docent Council in 1955, which created a core group of volunteers who continue to serve the museum to this day.
In the 1960s, the museum underwent another major renovation to build the Hoffman Memorial Wing, named for L. Hawley Hoffman, who served as president of the museum twice. Funded by the museum’s first capital campaign, the new wing began construction in November 1968 and was finished in September 1970. Pietro Belluschi served as the architect again, and the project allowed him to realize a complete vision for the museum that he had conceived nearly 40 years earlier. The expansion created classroom and studio space for the Museum Art School, a sculpture mall, a new vault for the collections, and an auditorium.
Over the course of the next several decades, the collections and programs of the Rose City Art Museum continued to grow and evolve. In 1978, Vivian and Gordon Gilkey began their association with the museum, bringing with them an extraordinary collection of thousands of works on paper that would eventually lead to the opening of the Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts in 1993. Also in 1978, the Northwest Film Center was incorporated into the museum, offering a wide range of film festivals, classes, and outreach programs focused on the moving image arts.
The Rose City Art Museum celebrated its centennial in 1992, which was marked by successful negotiations to purchase the Masonic Temple, now known as the Mark Building. The purchase was completed in 1994, the same year that a capital campaign to finance a refurbishment of the Main Building began. This ambitious project included improving the galleries, reinstalling the permanent collection, and equipping the building with a climate control system. The refurbishment allowed the museum to host the most successful exhibition in its history: Imperial Tombs of China, which brought 430,000 visitors to the museum the following year.
A major renovation of the Hoffman Wing was completed in 2000 and added more than 50,000 square feet (5,000 m2) of new gallery space to the museum. The first gallery space addition since 1939, the new galleries included the Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art and the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art. The renovation was funded by the largest capital campaign ever undertaken by a cultural organization in the State, which raised $45 million.
In 2001, the Rose City Art Museum announced the largest single acquisition in its history when it purchased the private collection of renowned New York art critic Clement Greenberg. The 159 works by artists such as Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, and Anthony Caro substantially enhanced the museum’s permanent collection of 20th century modern and contemporary art. To house this new collection, the museum renovated the former Masonic temple, transforming it into the 141,000-square-foot (13,100 m2) Mark Building, which opened in October 2005. The renovation added the six-floor, 28,000-square-foot (2,600 m2) Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, the largest exhibition space for modern and contemporary art in the region. The Mark Building also houses the 33,000 volume Crumpacker Family Library, meeting spaces, ballrooms, and administrative offices.
Now with a collection consisting of some 40,000 objects, the Rose City Art Museum is one of the leading cultural institutions in the Pacific Northwest. The museum is currently under the leadership of Brian Ferriso, The Marilyn H. and Dr. Robert B. Pamplin, Jr. Director since 2006. In 2007, Vincent van Gogh’s 1884 painting The Ox-Cart was donated to the museum, becoming the first work of that artist in a Northwest museum. Beginning in December 2013, Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud went on display for three months shortly after it was sold at auction at the highest price ever paid for a work of art.
In 2016, the Rose City Art Museum announced that it will undertake a glass-walled expansion to unite its two existing free-standing buildings. The addition, to be called the Rothko Pavilion, comes with a partnership with Mark Rothko’s children, Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel, that will provide loans of major Rothko paintings from their private collection. The works will be lent individually in rotation over the course of the next two decades.
“Portland Art Museum.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Sept. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Art_Museum.