The Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the oldest art museums in the United States. Founded in 1881, it was the first purpose-built art museum west of the Alleghenies. Its collection of over 60,000 works make it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Midwest.
Museum founders debated locating the museum in either Burnett Woods, Eden Park, or downtown Cincinnati on Washington Square. Charles West, the major donor of the early museum, cast his votes in favor of Eden Park sealing its final location. The Romanesque-revival building designed by Cincinnati architect James McLaughlin opened in 1886. A series of additions and renovations have considerably altered the building over its 120 year history.
In 2003, a major addition, The Cincinnati Wing was added to house a permanent exhibit of art created for Cincinnati or by Cincinnati artists since 1788. The Cincinnati Wing includes fifteen new galleries covering of well appointed space, and 400 objects. The Odoardo Fantacchiotti angels are two of the largest pieces in the collection. Fantacchiotti created these angels for the main altar of St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in the late 1840s. They were among the first European sculptures to come to Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Wing also contains the work of Frank Duveneck, Rookwood Pottery, Robert Scott Duncanson Mitchell and Rammelsberg (Cincinnati's premier 19th century furniture manufacturer) and a tall case clock by Luman Watson.
The Cincinnati Art Museum enjoyed the support of the community from the beginning. Generous donations from a number of prominent Cincinnatians grew the collection to number in the tens of thousands of objects, which soon necessitated the addition of the first of several Art Museum expansions.
In 1907 the Schmidlapp Wing opened, which was followed by a series of building projects. The addition of the Emery (named after Cincinnati philanthropists Thomas J. Emery and his wife Mary Emery), Hanna and French wings in the 1930s enclosed the courtyard and gave the Art Museum its current rectangular shape and provided the space in which our American, European and Asian collections are currently shown.
Renovations during the late 1940s and early 1950s divided the Great Hall into two floors and the present main entrance to the Art Museum was established. The 1965 completion of the Adams-Emery wing increased our facility resources yet further, adding space for the permanent collection, lecture halls and temporary exhibition galleries.
In 1993, a $13 million project restored the grandeur of the Art Museum’s interior architecture and uncovered long-hidden architectural details. This project included the renovation of one of the Art Museum’s signature spaces, the Great Hall. In addition, new gallery space was created and lighting and climate control were improved. The Art Museum’s temporary exhibition space was expanded to approximately to accommodate major temporary exhibitions.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, the Art Museum’s collection numbered over 60,000 objects and, today, is the largest in the state of Ohio. In 2003, the Cincinnati Art Museum deepened its ties with the Greater Cincinnati community by opening the popular and expansive Cincinnati Wing, the first permanent display of a city’s art history in the nation. In addition, on May 17, 2003, the Art Museum eliminated its general admission fee forever, made possible by The Lois and Richard Rosenthal Foundation.
The Cincinnati Art Museum announced in August 2006 the appointment of Aaron Betsky as director. The Art Museum selected Betsky, former director of the world’s largest architecture museum, from a field of several dozen national and international candidates.
The new director brings a strong combination of management, development and scholarship experience to the Cincinnati Art Museum. For the past 5 years, Betsky served as director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute, where he managed a significant renovation of the museum’s building and the creation of a satellite branch. During his tenure, he significantly increased the museum’s budget and quadrupled the amount of educational activities. In addition, he launched an international traveling exhibition program that doubled the number of visitors to exhibitions and widened the overall exhibitions program to include art and design along with architecture.
In May 2007, the Art Museum announced a short list of potential architects for the future expansion plans.
The Art Museum, located at 953 Eden Park Drive in Eden Park, is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed on Mondays.