Since Boston is one of the oldest metro areas in the United States – settlers from Europe arrived 400 years ago – it’s full of American art and history. If you are looking for a fairly extensive collection of American art that includes art from North America, South America, and the Caribbean, consider taking a day trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), particularly on a rainy day where a museum might make more sense than a stroll on the Esplanade. While at the MFA, also make sure you take a look at the art from other areas of the world as well!
Location: The Museum of Fine Arts is located right next to the Back Bay Fens at 465 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115
Cost: Tickets currently cost $25/Free for Adult/Child(0-17), plus extra if you want to see special exhibitions.
Covid Restrictions: During Covid, you likely need to reserve admission tickets in advance.
Getting There by Subway: If you are traveling by public transportation, you can take the MBTA Green Line E train to the Museum of Fine Arts stop, or the Orange Line train to the Ruggles stop. There are also several bus options.
Getting There by Car: Alternatively, you can park in one of the Museum lots or garages (museum members get a nice discount), use the Spot Hero app to find a different garage, or hope that a meter is available. You can pay for most meters by using the Park Boston app.
The Art of the Americas Collection
The Art of the Americas Collection at the MFA is quite extensive and covers many different genres of art throughout a period of 3,000 years. Given the location of the museum, it is no surprise that the majority of the art is focused on the time period of the American Revolution and have heavy influences from Europe, but there are plenty of pieces from other time periods, locations, and cultures.
Furnishings from The Americas
If you are curious about what life was like for the reasonably wealthy in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, make sure you check out the Oak Hill rooms. The MFA acquired a dinning room, bedroom, and parlor from the a merchant family in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Some of the color choices were popular at the time, but I can’t imagine living in a bedroom where the bedspread, bed curtains, window curtains, and chair upholstery are all the same. James was also a little horrified by the dominate pink colors in the parlor. The dining room was a little more my style, although the busy wallpaper paired with the carpet was a bit much.
In contrast, most people lived much more simply than this. The MFA acquired a farm house built in 1704 by a reasonably well-to-do farmer in West Boxford, Massachusetts. You will notice that the main living area was used for cooking, eating, and sleeping. Not shown is a loft area, and an additional room that was added to the back in 1725.
Think of this house the next time you question whether your house is large enough, has enough windows, or has enough privacy from the rest of the family!
Similarly to the European collection, I found this desk and bookcase from Mexico fascinating. It has a heavy Spanish-Islamic influence in the design.
Paintings from the Americas
My favorite parts of art museums are almost always the paintings, and this museum is no exception. There is no surprise that you will see plenty of paintings from the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. I particularly liked William Morris Hunt’s The Drummer Boy.
Childe Hassam’s At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight) also spoke to us. If you are interested in exploring the Boston Common and other greenery around Boston, consider walking the Emerald Necklace which starts in the Boston Common, and continues through the Public Garden, Back Bay, the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park.
Other paintings draw from the American landscape.
And still more paintings focus on popular European techniques, but applied in New World settings.
Portraits and images of daily life were just as important in America as in Europe. I was particularly drawn to the peasant girl in Charles Sprague Pearce’s A Moment’s Rest.
If painters immigrated from Europe, you can also expect sculptors to immigrate. I was quite surprised to find my favorite sculptures attributed to American artists rather than their European counterparts.
Don’t you love the carefree boy riding the lion?
American Stained Glass
As a child, I always loved looking at the stained glass in my grandmother’s church. This museum has some great examples of American stained glass.
We also really liked the room showing various ship reproductions. It is fascinating to think about crossing the ocean to move to an unknown land. What was it like for the people who voyaged on those ships? James particularly liked the carving of a woman that was originally attached to the front of a ship. Many sailors thought of these “figureheads” as protectors and put a lot of significance on any damage that was inflicted on these carvings.
Native American Art
Leaving the European part of American art, the MFA does a fairly good job of displaying art from the Native Americans. Having grown up in Alaska, I was pleasantly surprised to find a selection of works from the Pacific Northwest.
James particularly liked Preston Singletary’s Raven Steals the Moon, which deals with the Native Alaskan (Tlingit) legend about how after the universe was created, the sun, moon, and stars were kept in a box by a chief’s daughter. Raven came along and created a clever plan to steal them out of the box and give the world light.
You can also find plenty of pottery, articles of clothing, and more from other Native American tribes.
And More From the Americas
Heading further south, the MFA has some burial Urns from the K’iché Maya of Guatemala.
And you can find much more! If Boston is your next family travel destination and you are trying to figure out where to go, consider visiting the Museum of Fine Arts to explore some amazing artwork from around the world!