The Kimbell at 40: an Evolving Masterpiece

The Kimbell at 40: an Evolving Masterpiece

October 7, 2012 to December 30, 2012
This exhibition celebrates the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Kimbell Art Museum on October 4, 1972. It looks back to the Museum’s genesis and showcases the architectural achievements, pivotal acquisitions, important exhibitions, and historic events that have made it into the world-renowned institution it is today. The exhibition will begin with the vision of the Kimbell’s founders, Kay and Velma Kimbell, to establish a public art museum “of the first class” in Fort Worth, as well as the forward-thinking decision by the Kimbell Art Foundation board of directors and the Museum’s first director, Richard F. Brown, to form a collection of works of art that epitomize their eras and styles. Highlights from the permanent collection, including works by European masters Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Monet, and Matisse, as well as antiquities and important pieces of Asian, African, and Precolumbian art, will be displayed throughout the building. Accompanying these will be historic material and architectural models of the iconic Louis I. Kahn building and the highly anticipated Renzo Piano building, which is scheduled to open in 2013.

The Kimbell Art Foundation, which owns and operates the Museum, was established in the 1930s by Kay and Velma Kimbell in partnership with Kay’s sister and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Coleman Carter, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Kimbell purchased their first paintings. They continued to collect artworks, mostly portraits of the British and French schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, and when Mr. Kimbell died, in 1964, he left his collection and entire personal fortune to the Foundation.

By 1966, the Foundation’s board of directors had appointed Richard F. Brown the Museum’s first director and set the policy of forming “collections of the highest aesthetic quality, derived from any and all periods in man’s history, and in any medium or style.” Two aspects of that plan would have the greatest impact on changing the Kimbell collection: an expansion of vision to encompass world history and a new focus on a small number of key objects. The collection now consists of about 350 works that touch individual high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance.
 
Although acquisitions of the first decade (1965–75) included several works that today rank among the treasures of the collection (the Maya Stela with a Ruler and Monet’s Point de la Hève at Low Tide), only after the estate was fully settled in 1975 was it possible to add on a regular basis such important examples as Duccio’s Raising of Lazarus, El Greco’s Portrait of Dr. Francisco de Pisa, and Cézanne’s Man in a Blue Smock. During the 1980s and 1990s, more than 100 works were acquired, among them masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Mantegna, Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, Velázquez, Picasso, and Matisse. The Kimbell’s Asian, African, and pre-Columbian collections were also greatly enhanced by masterworks such as the Chinese Bodhisattva Torso, the Japanese Shaka Buddha, a terracotta Head, Possibly of a King from the Ife culture of Nigeria, a Standing Bodhisattva from the ancient region of Gandhara, and an inlaid figurine of a Standing Ruler from the Wari culture of Peru. Acquisitions of the highest caliber continue to enrich the collection, with the recent purchases of Bernini’s Modello for the Fountain of the Moor, Michelangelo’s Torment of Saint Anthony, and Poussin’s Sacrament of Ordination.

Equally important in the development of the Kimbell as a major national museum has been its initiation of highly acclaimed international loan exhibitions, including retrospectives devoted to Poussin, Ribera, Tiepolo, and Vigée Le Brun. Other major exhibitions originated or co-organized by the Kimbell include The Blood of Kings: A New Interpretation of Maya Art (1986), Monet and the Mediterranean (1997), Stubbs and the Horse (2004), Gauguin and Impressionism (2005), Picturing the Bible: The Earliest Christian Art (2007), and Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome (2011). The Museum has also played host to major traveling exhibitions, beginning in 1973 with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Paintings from the U.S.S.R. and including The Great Bronze Age of China (1980), Impressionist Masterpieces from the Barnes Collection (1994), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh (2006), The Impressionists: Master Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago (2008), and Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea (2010).

The Kimbell Art Museum, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn (1901–1974), is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era.  A new building, designed by the world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano and now under construction, will provide space for special exhibitions, allowing the Kahn building to showcase the permanent collection.

This exhibition is sponsored by The Beck Group and supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.