The mission of the Portland 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 Association of Museums.
The museum purchased its first collection of some one hundred plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures with its first gift from prominent local citizen Henry Corbett, who donated $10,000 for the acquisition. Another local citizen, Winslow B. Ayer, and his wife selected the casts during a trip to Europe after receiving advice on their purchase from museum professionals at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
This initial collection purchased by Ayer, called the Corbett Collection, went on display in the Portland Art Museum's first location in the upper hall of the new library building at SW 7th and Stark Streets. It immediately became one of Portland’s most important and popular cultural resources, attracting art groups, school field trips, and large audiences for lectures.
Three years later, in 1908, the museum acquired its first original piece of artwork, "Afternoon Sky, Harney Desert" by American Impressionist Childe Hassam, who frequented Malheur and Harney counties in Eastern Oregon with his friend, C.E.S. Wood, one of Oregon's earliest cultural icons.
Anna Belle Crocker succeeded Henrietta Failing as curator of the museum in 1909. She would remain at PAM until her retirement in 1936. Crocker also became the first head of the Museum Art School, which opened that year and today is the Pacific Northwest College of Art.
In late 1913, the museum hosted an exhibition featuring many pieces that had been on display earlier that year at the famous 1913 New York Armory Show, which had introduced American audiences to modern art. Among the objects that visited Portland were works by Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gaugin, Matisse, Manet, Renoir, and others, including 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 exhibitions organized by Sally Lewis, the daughter of a prominent Portland family, who had befriended artists like Matisse, Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, and Arthur B. Davies on her trips to New York and Europe. In 1923, Lewis organized an exhibition at the museum that included 44 paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Andre Derain and American modernists such as Maurice Prendergast, Charles Burchfield, and Max Weber. She was also one of 22 subscribers 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 Brancusis A Muse, owned by Lewis and given by her to the museum in 1959.
One of the opening exhibitions in the new building featured a new gift: The Mary Andrew Ladd collection of 750 Japanese prints, still considered one of the most important collections of its kind. Barely six years later, though, and construction began again on a new wing to expand the museum building even further. Called the Hirsch Wing, it was also designed by architect Pietro Belluschi, and funded largely through the bequest of Ella Hirsch, in honor of her parents, Solomon and Josephine Hirsch. Opening on September 15, 1939, the new wing doubled the museum’s exhibition space.
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 Portland Art Museum and toured in 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 L. Hawley Hoffman Memorial Wing in 1968. The construction was funded by the Portland Art Museum’s first-ever capital campaign. The museum once more turned to Pietro Belluschi as the architect, allowing him to realize his completed vision for the Portland Art Museum that he had first conceived nearly forty years earlier. Named after L. Hawley Hoffman, who twice served as Museum President, construction on the new wing began in November 1968 and was finished in September 1970, creating classroom and studio space for the Museum Art School, a sculpture mall, a new vault for the collections, and a museum auditorium.
Over the course of the next several decades, the collections and programs of the Portland 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 lead to the official 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.
The Portland Art Museum celebrated its centennial year 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 executive director John Buchanan began a capital campaign to finance an ambitious renovation project to refurbish the Belluschi Building, improving the galleries, reinstalling the permanent collection, and equipping the building with a much-needed 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 people to the museum the following year.
In 1998, the museum undertook a major renovation of the Hoffman Wing. The renovation was completed in 2000, adding more than of new gallery space to the museum, highlighted by the Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art and the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Northwest Art. This was the first new gallery space added to the museum since 1939. The renovation of the Hoffman Wing was funded by the largest capital campaign ever under taken by a cultural organization in the State of Oregon. The campaign began in 1998, and had raised $45 million by its completion in 2000.
The next year in 2001 the Portland 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 like 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 undertook a major renovation of the former Masonic Temple, which was transformed into the Mark Building that opened in October 2005. The highlight of the new Mark Building is the six-floor, 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, open free to the public, plus meeting spaces, ballrooms, and administrative offices.
Now with a collection consisting of some 40,000 objects, the Portland Art Museum is one of the leading cultural institutions in the Pacific Northwest. The museum is currently under the leadership of executive director Brian Ferriso, appointed in 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.