Best Boston Tourism Tips

The Boston Museum of Fine Art
Just Starts with American Icons

Where it is: Fenway/Kenmore

The Boston Museum of Fine Art – actually the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – is one of the largest museums in the world, with a collection so deep and vast it holds seriously high profile pieces from every genre: Ancient Greek to Roman to Medieval to Renaissance, impressionism to dadaism, imperial Chinese art, Egyptian art including sarcophagi and sculpture, and more. It also holds the largest collection of Japanese works under one roof outside of Japan.


John Singer Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art John Singer Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit at the Boston MFA

At the Museum of Fine Arts Boston offers you a chance to see treasures from a very long list of the kinds of names found in art textbooks.

A five-minute walk from the Gardner Museum Boston, the MFA features work by Degas, Van Gogh, Matisse, Miro, Dali, Hopper, Twombly, Warhol, Koons, and Schnabel, to give a tiny sample.


Greek Head of Aphrodite, about 330-300 BC, at the Boston Museum of Fine Art Greek Head of Aphrodite, about 330-300 BC, at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

It would take a week to take in all the masterpieces the museum has to offer . . . but I can suggest a good, New England-y place to start.

Residing in the birthplace of the American Revolution, the Boston MFA has a built a unmatchable concentration of iconic American artists. Visitors with limited time should consider heading straight for the MFA's American Collection to see the biggest names of American art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.


Susan Rothenberg's The Chase at the Boston MFA Susan Rothenberg's The Chase at the Boston MFA

You can start with the MFA's most popular attraction, John Singer Sargent's dreamy The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, which captures the daughters of Sargent's friend in their Paris apartment. With its luminous evocation of privilege and luxury, the painting is a singular demonstration of why Sargent was the most expensive and sought after portrait painter in the world during the Edwardian era. His client roster included US President Theodore Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

And Daughters is just the jewel in the MFA's crown; the museum has over 500 of Sargent's water colors, oil paintings, and sketches. (Though my personal favorite by Sargent happens to be El Jaleo over at the Gardner Museum Boston.)


Auguste (René) Rodin's Psyche at the Boston Museum of Fine Art Auguste (René) Rodin's Psyche at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

Next, the MFA's American Collection heavily features Boston-born, eighteenth century prodigy John Singleton Copley, the portraitist of the American colonial era. The most famous men of the American Revolution – guys like Paul Revere, John Adams, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams – all sat for him and the MFA has collected scores of these masterful portraits.

At this Boston musuem fine arts include the largest collection of Copley's works in the world and they are all portraits . . . except one. If you visit the American Collection, make sure to see Copley's crackling Watson and the Shark, among his most enduring paintings (there's a small copy of it off the bar of the Fairmont Hotel Boston).


Winslow Homer's The Fog Warning at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston Winslow Homer's The Fog Warning at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Watson is a harrowing scene from an event in the life of Copley's friend, fellow artist Brook Watson, who was swimming in Havana Harbor, Cuba, when attacked by a shark, resulting in the amputation of one leg below the knee. The painting is heroic and dynamic . . . and slightly comic, and if you're a stickler about shark anatomy. (Copley had never seen a shark and had to draw its features partly from imagination.)


Herb Ritts's Dizzy Gillespie, Paris at the Boston Museum of Fine Art Herb Ritts's Dizzy Gillespie, Paris at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

And finally, America's greatest impressionist painter, Mary Cassatt, also enjoys robust representation at the MFA. Cassatt was the only American ever to be invited – by Edgar Degas himself – to show with the Impressionist painters.

Her work is unusual not only for being American, but for its focus on private moments in the lives of women, particularly mothers and children. The paintings draw you in. Check out The Tea, Caresse Maternelle, and In the Loge.

But, of course, the MFA is not a museum featuring only American artists or paintings. It has important works in a variety of media from all over the world.


Mary Mary Cassatt's The Tea at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

If Cassatt's work whets your appetite for more impressionist masterpieces, the MFA's collection includes works by Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, Pissarro, Manet, and Monet.

If it's sculpture you want, the MFA holds works ranging from ancient Greek to 15th century Indian to Rodin.


John John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark at the Boston Museum of Fine Art

If you're interested in contemporary art, MFA highlights include Susan Rothenberg's The Chase, and other pieces by modern and contemporary royalty like Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Takashi Murakami and Kara Walker.

Harriet Powers's Pictorial Quilt is one of my favorite MFA pieces, depicting scenes from the Bible and moments from folklore. Check it out, and see if you can you find the reference to Jonah and the Whale....

The museum offers free admission Wednesday nights after 4 pm, though a voluntary donation of $25 is suggested .

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115; 617-267-9300 [Map]


Adults: $14

Seniors (65+): $12

Students: $10

Children 12 and under: free

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