Founded as Brooks Memorial Art Gallery in 1916, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art was the first art museum in Memphis. Initial efforts to build a municipal art museum in Memphis were based upon a design for an arts and sciences pavilion submitted by artist Carl Gutherz (1844-1907) in 1906. This plan never came to fruition, but a decade later a Renaissance Revival building of Georgian marble designed by James Gamble Rogers was erected in Overton Park. Bessie Vance Brooks donated the building to the city in memory of her husband, Samuel Hamilton Brooks, to “forever uphold a standard of truth and beauty in the community.” (1) Reminiscent of a portion of the Villa Guilia in Rome, this building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is situated within the city’s park and parkway system.
Florence McIntyre was the gallery’s first director, and the board and acceptance jury consisted of noted artists William Merritt Chase, Kate Carl, Cecilia Beaux, and Irving Ramsey Wiles. The museum had a small core collection of paintings and hosted American and European art exhibitions in various media. It was instrumental in introducing the Mid-South to a wide range of artists and stylistic developments. Gifts and purchases have brought the collection to over seven thousand objects, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and examples of the decorative arts. Of particular note are the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, the Hugo N. Dixon Collection of Impressionist paintings, the Levy Collection of American prints, the Goodman Book Collection, and the Goodheart Collection of Carl Gutherz paintings, drawings, and archival material. The permanent collection is supplemented by long-term loans, which together present a broad survey of art that includes African and pre-Columbian artifacts as well as an extensive chronological survey of western art traditions.
To accommodate a growing collection and an active exhibition schedule, three additional structures have been added to the original building. The first, built in 1955, was designed by Everett Woods; the second, which consisted of two floors of new galleries, was designed by Francis Mah in 1973; the final 1989 addition, which included a new main entrance, was designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. Today the museum consists of seventy-five thousand square feet of gallery, storage, and office space and houses a print study room, a library, an auditorium, a gift store, and a restaurant. In 1983 its name was changed to Memphis Brooks Museum of Art to better reflect the function and purpose of the institution. It is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is supported by the city of Memphis and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Foundation. The Foundation was created in 1955, and its board continues as the main governing body.
Douglas K. S. Hyland, “History of the Collection of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art,” in Painting and Sculpture Collection, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, ed. Sally Palmer Thomason (1984), 11-18