Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


ABOUT THE HISTORICAL PHOTOGRAPHS "Huntington Avenue has long been a center of culture. The city calls it the Avenue of the Arts. But it`s been home to different kinds of culture at different times. We`re looking at the Museum of Fine Arts in the new photograph. Even before the museum arrived in Boston, this was a site for exhibitions. Pop culture existed in those days, too, and the land was used for rodeos and circuses. We can see the tents of one traveling circus in the older photo, where a sign (not visible) announces “This Way to the Big Show” — words that could well adorn a banner at the MFA today. Not much is known about those circuses. As for the museum, its building came along in 1909. That was an era when architects in both Europe and America loved to make big, pretentious public spaces. The architect was Guy Lowell, who was a cousin of Harvard president A. Lawrence Lowell, the kind of family connection so helpful to aspiring young architects. For his cousin`s university, Guy Lowell also designed Lowell Hall, Emerson Hall, the Fox Club, Briggs Cage (an athletic facility), and the president's mansion (now Loeb House). Young American architects in those days flocked to Paris to drink wine and study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. They believed they had to go to Europe if they wanted to get any culture. (One of Guy Lowell's gifted contemporaries, Frank Lloyd Wright, was offered a free education at the school and turned it down, choosing to develop his own kind of architecture instead.) Lowell`s design for the museum is filled with motifs from classical Greek and Roman temple architecture, such as the central entry portico with its four huge Ionic columns. Everything is arranged symmetrically, in a style that`s usually called simply Beaux-Arts. The museum is meant to look like a palace, and it does. Faced with Deer Isle granite from Maine, it`s imposing, but it`s dull. Probably it is best remembered for the sentimental statue of a Native American on horseback, Appeal to the Great Spirit, added by sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin in 1913. Buildings are always changing. Lowell himself added wings to the MFA. So did other architects, including I. M. Pei. Since 1999, Britain`s Sir Norman Foster, a winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, has been working on a proposal to further enlarge the vast museum. The museum wants to add gallery space and cover the open-air courtyards with glass roofs to make them usable year-round. At last count, phase one of Foster`s scheme was estimated to cost $180 million. A construction start is hoped for 2005." -Robert Campbell and Peter Vanderwarker, "CITYSCAPES - The Art and Soul of the City," Boston Globe, 15 August 2004

Addition, 2010
Founded, 1870
Constructed, 1909