19th-Century Art

Level 2 Galleries

A splendid fabric-lined central gallery displays the masterful works of expatriate artist John Singer Sargent. Further on, a large gallery hung in the period style of a Salon examines American artists touring Europe, where they absorbed the lessons of the Old Masters as they traveled abroad. Adjacent galleries are dedicated to artists, movements and styles, and works by Americans active abroad and those devoted to life in America. Two period rooms on this level are from the Roswell Gleason House, built about 1840 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and installed within the Museum for the first time.

Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery / Sargent

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882, John Singer SargentDevoted to the MFA’s superb collection of works by American expatriate John Singer Sargent, this gallery offers a complete survey of the artist’s achievements in a variety of media. From his early Paris masterpiece The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), which he exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1883, to the pageantry of his English style represented by Lord Londonderry (1904), Sargent’s career is traced with the finest representative examples. The gallery also includes Sargent’s figurative compositions and landscapes, as well as a number of preparatory drawings for the Boston Public Library murals and watercolors from the Museum’s comprehensive Sargent holdings. This gallery complements the Sargent Rotunda Gallery, dedicated to the preparatory drawings, oil sketches, and paintings related to Sargent’s mural decorations (1916-25) in the Museum’s historic building.

Penny and Jeff Vinik Gallery / Salon: Americans on the Grand Tour

Valley of the Yosemite, 1864, Albert BierstadtThis gallery explores the ambition of American artists to compete in a cosmopolitan arena and to invest their work with international standards of excellence. A large area is devoted to the American experience in Italy and features Italian scenes by Washington Allston, Thomas Cole, and George Inness. The gallery also highlights works by American artists under the spell of France, such as William Morris Hunt, George Inness, and William Picknell, and of Germany, including Albert Bierstadt, Frank Duveneck, and John Selinger. Another section is devoted to several generations of American artists who depicted Niagara Falls, the foremost symbol of the New World during the formative decades of landscape painting, from 1825 to 1885. In addition, masterpieces of American sculpture by William Wetmore Story, Harriet Hosmer, Horatio Greenough, and other artists active in Rome are included to create a dramatic presentation of American achievement in the world’s art capital in the mid-19th century.

Bernard and Barbara Stern Shapiro Gallery / Prints and Drawings / American Artists Abroad—Rotating Gallery

The Letter, 1890–91, Mary Stevenson CassattThe initial installations in this gallery feature works on paper by important 19th-century American artists such as Mary Cassatt, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler who pursued inspiration and education through travel. Time spent abroad enabled Americans to meet avant-garde artists and to see historic architecture, monuments, and famous art collections. The first rotation (November 20, 2010–June 26, 2011) focuses on the experiences American artists had in vibrant cities and cultural centers such as London, Paris, Rome, and Venice. The second rotation (July 16, 2011–March 4, 2012) features drawings and watercolors by artists who ventured off the beaten path in North Africa, Japan, and Tahiti, the American West, and rural Europe. The third rotation (March 24–December 31, 2012) explores how American print artists responded to japonisme, the fashionable late 19th-century European craze for all things Japanese.

Barbara and Theodore Alfond Gallery / Homer and Eakins: The Civil War

Boys in a Pasture, 1874, Winslow HomerThis gallery highlights two of the celebrated masters of late 19th-century American painting, Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. The MFA’s unsurpassed collection of work by Boston-born Homer reflects the full range of his accomplishments, from his early drawings to his iconic late marine paintings, including his monumental Fog Warning (1885). Also featured is a select group of his rarely seen masterworks in watercolor, with the well-known Blue Boat (1892) a special highlight of the opening rotation. Key paintings by Eakins also are on view, including his remarkable early sporting picture Starting Out after Rail (1874), and one of his late portraits, The Dean’s Roll Call (1899). Works in a variety of media document the Civil War, the event that cast its shadow over the rest of the century. Homer and Eakins are also represented in this section, along with photographs by Alexander Gardner.

Dr. Lawrence H. and Roberta Cohn Gallery / Heade and Lane

Passion Flowers and Hummingbirds, about 1870–83, Martin Johnson HeadeThis gallery presents two 19th-century artists whose works represent one of the major strengths of the MFA’s Karolik Collection: Martin Johnson Heade and Fitz Henry Lane. Anchored by Lane’s Boston Harbor at Sunset (about 1850–55) and Heade’s Approaching Storm: Beach Near Newport (about 1861–62), the installation offers the full range of these artists’ careers. An additional highlight is a case of works on paper, which will rotate sketches and prints by these artists. Furniture and silver in the rococo-revival and other mid-19th century modes are also displayed here.

Waleska Evans James Gallery / Gothic Revival / Church / Cole

Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, 1828, Thomas ColeShowcasing both decorative arts and paintings, this gallery explores the related ideas and imagery of the Gothic revival and the picturesque American landscape. Expressions of the Gothic revival style in a range of media can be seen in furniture from the 1830s through 1850s, including a desk and bookcase labeled by Joseph Meeks and Sons. More fully developed Gothic architectural motifs appear in pierced-back chairs, a marble-topped center table, and a sofa believed to have been designed by the architect Andrew Jackson Davis for Belmeade, the romantic villa Davis designed for Philip St. George Cocke of Virginia. A selection of rare Gothic revival silver includes the silver and enamel Cooper & Fisher chalice and paten (ca. 1860), and silver objects by Samuel Kirk, John Chandler Moore, and William Gale & Son. Among the masterpieces of landscape painting on view are works by Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Asher Brown Durand, who captured the rugged and picturesque qualities of the American wilderness. The gallery also will feature a rotating display of oil sketches and drawings, many from the Karolik Collection. Visitors can use an interactive touch screen to learn more about the Karoliks and their preeminent collections of American landscape paintings, drawings, 18th-century decorative arts, and folk art, which appear in galleries throughout the wing.

Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson Gallery / Aesthetic Movement

Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl, about 1893, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Glass and Decorating CompanyThe Aesthetic Movement’s emphasis on beauty for its own sake is recreated in this gallery. Producers and consumers of aesthetic objects, inspired by a combination of styles from a variety of cultures and historical periods, relished creative and harmonious juxtapositions of form, color, and texture for purely sensual enjoyment. Many of the paintings and decorative arts that are displayed in this gallery reflect a passion for the splendors of Japan and the Near East, an enthusiasm evident in the spare compositions of James McNeill Whistler, John La Farge, and William Merritt Chase; the exquisitely crafted Japanesque furniture by Herter Brothers; spectacular stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany and La Farge; mixed-metal silver by Gorham and Tiffany; and various painted and decorated ceramics in the Aesthetic manner.

Croll Gallery / At Home and Abroad: Late 19th-Century American Painters

Boston Common at Twilight, 1885–86, Childe HassamAmerican art created between 1875 and 1915 is the focus of this gallery, allowing an exceptional opportunity for a range of thematic installations from the MFA’s superb holdings. The gallery will open with a display of late 19th-century landscape painting, including Childe Hassam’s Boston Common at Twilight (1885–86), one of the earliest American paintings to incorporate the modern motifs of contemporary French art. Hassam would soon develop the bright palette of Impressionism, and several of his later landscapes are featured here, along with works by many innovative artists with ties to Boston, among them Dennis Miller Bunker, Robert Vonnoh, Frederic Vinton, and John Leslie Breck. Impressionism was particularly popular in late 19th-century Boston, and the style had a profound impact on local painters, particularly Edmund Tarbell and Frank Benson, prominent teachers at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Their brilliant outdoor portraits Mother and Child in a Boat (Tarbell, 1892), Calm Morning (Benson, 1904), and Eleanor (Benson, 1907), also are displayed here.

Suzanne and Terrence Murray Gallery / American Impressionism

In the Loge, 1878, Mary Stevenson CassattThe American engagement with French Impressionism—one of the most enduring legacies of the 19th-century cosmopolitan experience—is explored here. Masterworks by Mary Cassatt, the only American to join the French Impressionist circle, anchor the gallery and are shown in a range of media—oil, pastel, and prints. A variety of related objects also are showcased, including the Philadelphia federal-style tea service represented in Cassatt’s The Tea (about 1880) and a fan and opera glasses that relate to her painting In the Loge (1878). The gallery explores the adaptation of French Impressionism to American subjects by a variety of artists; the opening installation will feature several superb still life, landscape, and figurative works by William Merritt Chase, one of late 19th-century America’s most significant and influential painters.

David and Stacey Goel Gallery / Life in America: Entertainment and Innovation

The Bone Player, 1856, William Sidney MountThis gallery complements the nearby Roswell Gleason House parlor and offers a display of domestic furnishings and paintings of the period. As a room in which the occupants entertained both family and visitors, the parlor was often a place for Americans to demonstrate their modernity and cultural aspirations. Many parlor furnishings were made with new methods and materials—cast metals, aniline dyes, sprung-seat upholstery, laminated wood, and pressed glass. Others offered amusing novelty in design, such as a patent chair that can be converted into a set of library steps. The arrangement of these objects is inspired by similar displays of patented furniture at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (toured by more than nine million visitors). A range of decorative arts—furniture, glass, and metalwork—include patented products with exciting technical innovations. Domestic genre scenes exploring the American experience, including William Sidney Mount’s iconic Bone Player (1856) and his Rustic Dance After a Sleigh Ride (1830), are featured in the gallery. These works are complemented by a dramatic central case containing musical instruments of the types used in domestic settings or small concert performances, among them bones, a violin, a banjo, a guitar, and a flute. An ornamental parlor organ by the Estey Organ Company represents Americans’ appreciation of both fine design and music within a domestic setting. Popular prints using new color technologies by Currier and Ives and other publishers will also be exhibited on a rotating basis.

Heide Family Gallery / Roswell Gleason Parlor
Heide Family Gallery / Roswell Gleason Dining Room

Cruet holder or 'magic caster,' 1857–1871, Roswell GleasonThese two period rooms were originally part of the Roswell Gleason House, known as Lilacs, which was built about 1840 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Roswell Gleason (1799–1887), the owner of a successful pewter and silver-plate manufactory, became a wealthy entrepreneur and prominent citizen of Dorchester. (The rooms were acquired by the MFA in 1977 but had never been installed.) Although the exterior of the house was designed in the Gothic Revival style, the interior is distinctly Grecian. The two rooms have been installed with furniture similar to that which the Gleasons may have owned about 1840–70 in a mixture of period styles. Several of these objects actually were used in the Gleason house and descended in the family, including a center table sold by Samuel Beal to Roswell Gleason in 1849. The parlor also features a Boston Rococo Revival parlor suite with floral carving and an elaborate étagère by George Croome. The dining room displays a set of chairs by John Mead, a patented extension dining table by Cornelius Briggs, a pair of tables by Isaac Vose, and a late classical sideboard laid with silver and glass. Both rooms feature the original chandeliers from the Gleason House, which are beautiful examples of 19th-century lighting fixtures with foliate ornament and decorative glass globes. Paintings of fine quality, including a still-life by Severin Roesen, adorn the rooms, along with Parian ware sculptures by Daniel Chester French and silver-plate objects by Roswell Gleason himself. A case located in the visitor area of the dining room displays pewter and silver-plate objects made by Roswell Gleason’s factory and offers an overview of the history of the house and factory drawn from materials in the Gleason family archive. The Gleason story and objects are further enhanced by an interactive touch screen near the dining room.

Forkner and Gill Family Gallery / Life in America: Dining and Daily Life

Sideboard, 1850–60, Ignatius LutzThis gallery complements the adjacent Roswell Gleason house dining room with displays related to dining and daily life in mid 19th-century America. Visitors are greeted with Jerome Thompson’s charming painting A “Pic Nick” (about 1850), depicting a large group gathered at an elaborately set outdoor table, which gives viewers a sense of American dining habits out of doors. The intricately carved Ignatius Lutz sideboard, adorned with emblems of hunt and harvest, anchors one side of the gallery, dressed with ornate Rococo revival silver. Intriguing trompe l’oeil still lifes, including John Frederick Peto’s Poor Man’s Store (1885) and John Haberle’s A Slate complement the display.

Joyce and Edward Linde Gallery / Life in America: Folk Art

Pictorial quilt, 1895–98, Harriet PowersThis richly varied gallery reveals America’s fertile artistic imagination, evident in the creative work of artists and artisans with a range of formal training. Portraits of adults and children, painted furniture, weather vanes, imaginary landscapes, whimsical sculpture of birds and animals, a range of drawing styles, and masterpieces of the quilter’s art engage one another in lively juxtapositions. Gustave Dentzel’s carousel pig and other carvings join Erastus Salisbury Field’s Garden of Eden (about 1860), a Pictorial quilt (1895–98) by former slave Harriet Powers, and an elegant peacock weathervane from the Karolik Collection. The recently acquired wall painting by Rufus Porter, Boston Harbor (1824), anchors one end of the gallery and appears with a variety of objects featuring decorative, patterned surfaces.

Anne and Joseph P. Pellegrino Gallery / Boston School

Woman in a Fur Hat, about 1915, Gretchen Woodman RogersThis gallery presents the distinctive paintings, sculptures, and drawings of the Boston School, a group of nationally renowned artists (many of them trained at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts) who combined an Impressionist interest in light effects with an intense admiration for the traditions of art history, most particularly for the work of Jan Vermeer. Edmund Tarbell’s New England Interior (1906), Gretchen Rogers’s Woman in a Fur Hat (about 1915), William Paxton’s The New Necklace (1910), and Joseph DeCamp’s The Blue Cup (1909) show the group at its finest. These paintings are complemented by sculpture, including Bela Pratt’s Blind Cupid (1917), as well as a rotating selection of light-sensitive works—the first installation features drawings by Lilian Westcott Hale and miniatures on ivory and pastels by Laura Coombs Hills.

Lorraine and Alan Bressler Gallery / The Arts and Crafts Movement in America, 1870–1930

Tall back side chair, 1900, Frank Lloyd WrightFollowing the lead of the British, some American artists in the late 19th century sought to reform the products of industry by reuniting the designer and the craftsman, emphasizing handwork, advocating “honest” methods of construction, and striving for simplicity of form and harmony of materials in unified, domestic settings. This philosophy produced a myriad of aesthetic results that varied according to regional and individual interpretation. This gallery displays furniture, silver, ceramics, metalwork, paintings, and other objects from several regions, all demonstrating the Arts and Crafts philosophy. Some artists found inspiration in the styles and craftsmanship of pre-industrial cultures, seen in Elizabeth Copeland’s enameled wares, Arthur Stone’s silver, and Edwin Austin Abbey’s paintings. Other artists, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley, Charles and Henry Greene, and the craftsmen at the Grueby Pottery Company, chose to create spare, rectilinear forms in a more modern style that emphasized the function of the object as well as the character of the materials from which it was made. These objects are complemented by other ceramics, paintings, photographs, and prints whose makers, notably among them Arthur Wesley Dow, both respected the traditions of the past and also experimented with modern compositions or tonal harmonies. Many of the paintings on view are surrounded by hand-carved frames selected specifically for an individual composition, enhancing their relationship to the decorative arts.

Jan and Warren Adelson Gallery / American Renaissance

A Pavane, 1897, Edwin Austin AbbeyIn the decades after the Civil War, the United States entered the world stage, positioning itself as the new Rome. Many of the country’s leading architects, painters, sculptors, and decorative artists steeped themselves in European Beaux Arts traditions. They adapted classical forms and imagery, reinterpreting them with imperial splendor. Great public monuments adorned with sculpture and murals were constructed, among them the Boston Public Library, the Library of Congress, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. These architectural projects and the spirit that inspired them influenced the powerful works of art in all media, from Abbott Thayer’s monumental painting Caritas (1894-95) (with its tabernacle frame designed by Stanford White), to a variety of coins and medals designed by prominent sculptors and an elaborately decorated zither by Hartmann Brothers and Reinhard. The classical vocabulary employed in public art also appears in domestic works, among them John LaFarge’s brilliant stained glass window illustrating the infant Bacchus (made for a house in Beverly), and sculpture reliefs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Edwin Austin Abbey’s overmantel painting A Pavane (1897) presides over the gallery, framed in a carved wood fireplace surround with a hearth of handmade tiles by the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. Highlights of the gallery include Nelson Gustafson’s magisterial cabinet, adorned with an ornate clock and pair of candelabra retailed by Tiffany & Co.; and Frank Duveneck’s moving carved marble sculpture for the tomb of his wife, Elizabeth Boott.