Cincinnati Art Museum paved the way for America's arts when it opened its doors in 1886. It was the first specially built art museum west of the Allegheny Mountains. Today it is one of the oldest remaining art museums in the nation. While it's steeped in history, this museum also understands art should innovate, too. That's why its collection includes both historic and modern works. Take a closer look at one of Ohio's leading tourist attractions, the Cincinnati Art Museum.

History of the Cincinnati Art Museum

Image via Flickr by TheMarque

The 1880s were a time of substantial growth for Cincinnati. Its population was booming, fueled by the migration of abolitionists and escaped slaves from the South. The city government also completed the Cincinnati Southern Railway in the early part of the decade. It was the perfect time for the city to receive a cultural boost in the form of its first art museum.

Art museums were relatively new at the time, but that didn't deter its founders, led by major donor Charles West. In 1881, they established a temporary museum in the Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine while planning a much grander institution. They considered establishing the museum in downtown Cincinnati or Burnet Woods. However, buoyed by Charles West's support, the team settled on Eden Park. Local architect James W. McLaughlin turned their dreams into reality. Additions and renovations during the museum's history have substantially changed its looks. However, its Romanesque-revival columns and other decorative details remain.

In 2003, the Cincinnati Art Museum opened its new Cincinnati Wing. The 18,000 square foot space celebrates the works of local artists and art created for Cincinnati. It is the only permanent display of Cincinnati artworks in the United States.

Interesting Facts about the Cincinnati Art Museum

With a history spanning centuries, there are several fascinating facts about the Cincinnati Art Museum. The interesting tales start with the museum's inception. If not for leading donor Charles West, the museum may never have gotten off the ground. He donated $150,000 to the project, which was a small fortune at the time. A monument at the front of the museum ensures his contributions aren't forgotten. The four figures surrounding his statue represent the four major fine arts disciplines: architecture, painting, sculpture, and music.

Many visitors never make it to the top of the Cincinnati Art Museum, so they are unaware of the rooftop library hiding there. The recently renovated Mary R. Schiff Library and Archives has more than 100,000 art and art history books and two conference rooms. The main reading room's incredible city views make it a popular venue for corporate cocktail hours.

The Cincinnati Art Museum was conceived long before we cared about sustainability. However, contemporary changes have made it one of the most eco-friendly spaces in the city. In 2008, the Cincinnati Art Museum became certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

Cincinnati Art Museum's Popular Works

Cincinnati Art Museum's comprehensive collection features more than 100,000 artworks. These pieces, originating from all corners of the globe, span some 6,000 years of human history. Among them are works from some of the world's most celebrated artists, including Sandro Botticelli, Bernardo Strozzi, Pierre-August Renoir, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso.

The unique local perspective of the Cincinnati Wing makes it one of the museum's most popular sections. The Odoardo Fantacchiotti angels, standing around 4.5 feet, are two of the collection's largest and most magnificent works. The acclaimed Italian sculptor made the angels to decorate the main altar at Cincinnati's historic St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. Arriving in Cincinnati in the late 1840s, they are some of the city's first European sculptures.

The final version of Peter Paul Rubens' "Samson and Delilah" is at London's National Gallery, but Cincinnati Art Museum has a preliminary copy of the work. This oil sketch on a wood panel has all the hallmarks of the more polished piece. Onlookers see a disheveled, bare-breasted Delilah holding the sleeping Samson while a man cuts his powerful hair.

Frank Duveneck is one of Cincinnati's most influential artists. “The Whistling Boy” is arguably his most beloved work. This moody and realistic oil on canvas work shows the influence of his Munich art education. The dark canvas features the image of a young working-class boy with his lips pursed. It's so vibrant you can almost hear his cheerful whistle emanating from the work.

Cincinnati Art Museum's Best Exhibits

Unlike most art museums, the Cincinnati Art Museum does not host traveling exhibitions. Instead, its exhibits largely feature works from its own comprehensive collection of art throughout history, along with selected loan pieces.

“Frank Duveneck: American Master” celebrates the painting and printmaking prowess of one of Cincinnati's great art heroes. It features more than 90 of the museum's own Duveneck works alongside 35 works loaned from other American collections. Together they present a comprehensive picture of one of the true local art luminaries.

Female artists are often overlooked, but Cincinnati's Women Breaking Boundaries exhibit put them squarely in the spotlight. This exhibit paid homage to innovative female artists including Georgia O'Keeffe, Lorna Simpson, and Chiyo Mitsuhisa. It was a true celebration of female work, with modern works standing alongside pieces dating back to the 17th century. European and Asian pieces add diversity to the collection. Oils on canvas, ceramics, photography, fashion, metalwork, and artworks using other mediums are all included here. This unique exhibit encourages visitors to think more deeply about gender, the importance of female representation, and the female condition.

Visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum is at 953 Eden Park Drive, Eden Park. In 2003, the museum abolished admission fees to make art more accessible to everyone. The museum's parking lot is also free. However, admission to some special exhibitions is ticketed.

The Cincinnati Art Museum opens from 11 a.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays. It typically welcomes visitors until 5 p.m. except on Thursdays, when it stays open until 8 p.m.

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