In the late nineteenth century, public art museums were still very much a new phenomenon, especially as far west as Cincinnati. Following the success of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia, the Women’s Art Museum Association was organized in Cincinnati with the intent of bringing such an institution to the region for the benefit of all citizens. Enthusiasm for these goals grew steadily and by 1881 the Cincinnati Museum Association was incorporated. Just five years later, in May 1886, a permanent art museum building was completed in Eden Park and was heralded worldwide as “The Art Palace of the West.”
Original Building, 1886
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.
Schmidlapp Wing, 1907
In 1907 the Schmidlapp Wing opened, which was followed by a series of building projects. The addition of the 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.
Great Hall & Adams-Emery Wing, 1940s-1965
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.
Cincinnati Art Museum, 1993
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 10,000 square feet to accommodate major temporary exhibitions.
Cincinnati Wing, 2003
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.
125th Anniversary, 2006
In 2006, the Art Museum marked its 125th anniversary with 125 days of programs and events for the community to celebrate. In addition, a Facilities Master Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees in February 2006, provided a plan for growth that will serve the Art Museum for the next two decades.
We are looking ahead to more improvements that will make the Art Museum even better for you. This fall we will begin work on renovating the former Art Academy Building adjacent to the museum to house a new library, public space, and staff offices. This will free up approximately 15,000 square feet of gallery and exhibition space in the current Art Museum building. More information on this renovation.
You will see a new Schmidlapp Gallery in the next few months as well. You will be overwhelmed by the two dozen greatest pieces in our collection, which we will show in splendid and concentrated isolation, so that you can fully enjoy them. After we have amazed you with those great works of art, we will invite you to peruse our other galleries, in particular Galleries 232/233. There, we will display a great many pieces from our permanent collections, including our antiquities (including the work from Petra), our Native American Collection, and selections from our decorative arts collection. We will also show a changing range of fashion arts and prints, and a dense array of great paintings.