The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, with paintings by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists such as Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, and Monet, its collection of eighteenth-century porcelain, and its stunning gardens, has long been one of Memphis's key attractions. With the recent acquisition of the $15 million Montgomery H. W. Ritchie Family Collection, which includes a number of significant Post-Impressionist works, the Dixon truly is one of Tennessee's finest art museums. In addition to the museum's own holdings, special exhibitions regularly present art from outstanding public and private collections.
The history of the Dixon began with Margaret Oates Dixon (1900-1974) and Hugo Norton Dixon (1892-1974), philanthropists and community leaders who bequeathed their home, gardens, and art collection for the enjoyment and education of future generations. The Dixons spent nearly thirty-five years creating their exquisite estate in East Memphis. Their home, one of three in Memphis designed by architect John Staub, was completed in 1941. The imposing house–with its hipped roof, windows, and doors–is in the Georgian Revival style, while both the front and back porticoes are reminiscent of classical designs by the nineteenth-century American architect Robert Mills.
The gardens were conceived as an integral part of the overall design of the estate and reflect the Dixons' taste, their visits to gardens throughout Europe and the United States, and their lifestyle and appreciation of nature. Carefully carved out of seventeen acres of native Tennessee woodlands, the gardens were landscaped in the manner of an English park with open vistas and intimate formal gardens. Blooming dogwood trees and colorful azaleas give a fairyland quality to the gardens during the spring.
The Dixons began purchasing art in the mid-1940s and continued to collect throughout their lifetimes, amassing their collection with great care. By narrowing the focus of the collection to French and American Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and related schools, they created a collection that was moderate in size but high in quality.
The residence first opened to the public as a museum in 1976. The following year, a wing was added to house a growing fine and decorative arts collection. A second addition in 1986 more than doubled the size of the complex, adding an auditorium, a large special exhibition gallery, a series of smaller galleries, a museum shop, and service areas. A new horticultural complex and facilities were completed in 1998.
The Dixon Gallery and Gardens continues to seek significant works by artists who exhibited in Paris at one of the eight Impressionists exhibitions between 1874 and 1886, as well as works by other artists of the period–both Impressionists and Realists–including American Impressionists and American expatriates working in France. The decorative arts collections consists of the Warda Stevens Stout Collection of eighteenth-century German porcelain, one of the finest in the United States, and the Adler Pewter Collection, which is comprised of over three hundred pieces.