Located at Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri, the Saint Louis Art Museum is rated one of the nation's leading comprehensive art museums. Through presentation of high-quality exhibitions, it is dedicated to showcasing important works of art and presenting new ideas and scholarship.
Founded in 1879, the museum was formerly known as the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, an independent unit of Washington University. The Beaux-Arts style building was designed by Cass Gilbert, a famed architect. It bears the inscription, "Dedicated to Art and Free to All." Originally, it was located in downtown St. Louis. After its service in the 1904 World's Fair, it was moved to Forest Park.
The museum houses an extensive collection that includes worldwide works from antiquity to the present. The collection is divided into such areas as African, American, Ancient and Islamic, Asian, Decorative Art and Design, European Painting and Sculpture, Modern, Pre-Columbian and American Indian Art, and prints, drawings, and photographs.
Notable areas in the collection are Oceanic art, pre-Columbian art, ancient Chinese bronzes, and European and American art of the late 19th and 20th centuries, with particular strength in 20th-century German painting.
The African holdings include figure sculptures of bronze, clay, wood, and brass by the Fang, Kota, Yoruba, Mende, Akan, Chokwe, Bankoni, Nok, Djenné, Pangwe, Kuba, and Giriami peoples; brass and bronze body ornaments, Zulu beadwork, and an important collection of masks from the sub-Saharan region. Landscape paintings of such Hudson River School artists as Jasper Cropsey, Martin Johnson Heade, and Robert Duncanson are housed in American Art collection. South Asian sculptures and Tantric Buddhist art are noteworthy in the Asian collection. Roxy Paine's 56-foot-tall stainless steel, tree-shaped sculpture, Placebo, and new media works by such artists as Dara Friedman and Hiraki Sawa, are included in the Contemporary art collection.
The Decorative Arts and Design section contains European and American furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, textiles, arms and armor, architectural elements, and period rooms from the Renaissance to the present day. A marble Pan made in Michelangelo's workshop in the 1530s, a copper painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, a French St. Christopher, an alabaster Madonna, a head of St. Roch, and a German gilded Christ are the highlights of the Early European collection.
The museum contains more than 150 years of European painting and sculpture, and artwork by inhabitants of the Pacific islands. In addition, there are works of art in stone, wood, ceramic, gold, silver, feathers, fiber, and shell, representing peoples of traditional cultures from Mesoamerica, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Past exhibits included 19th-century European photographs from the museum’s collection, African Strip Weaving, American Art Pottery, Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur — rare Sumerian works dating back nearly five thousand years; a 1997 work by Shannon Kennedy, and paintings based on historical and contemporary military architectural plans, by Julie Mehretu.
The museum provides a setting for a variety of special events. Audio tours, gallery talks, lectures, performances, school programs, community-outreach activities, adult classes, teacher workshops, and family programs are offered throughout the year.
The museum's Richardson Memorial Library (est. 1825) provides more than 71,000 volumes, 425 periodical titles, rare documents, and auction catalogues.