One of the oldest museums in the state, the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) has a rich, storied history of connecting Arkansans to the arts.
Today, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts’ premier, international, and wide-ranging collection is held in the public trust by the AMFA Foundation. The collection spans eras and mediums, with strengths in works on paper and contemporary craft-based art, including ceramics, glass, fiber, metal, and wood.
Art Through the Ages
Early acquisitions helped to lay the foundation for the vast scope of the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection. An Angel from the Baptism of Christ, from circa 1465 by the unidentified German printmaker known as Master E. S., earns the title of earliest drawing in the collection. Other notable early drawings include a biblical work by Rembrandt van Rijn and a mythological scene by Peter Paul Rubens. Among the oldest works in the collection are a 14th century painting, The Martyrdom of St. Stephen, attributed to Cenni di Francesco di Ser Ceni circa 1375, and The Adoration of the Shepherds, a painting by Francesco Bassano circa 1580.
The museum’s European collection is particularly strong in late 19th century work. Highlights include Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Paul Cezanne, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and several works by French Symbolist Odilon Redon, including Andromeda and a floral still life. Key works on paper include examples by Gustave Courbet, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, and Francois Bonvin, along with the largest collection of watercolors by Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac located outside of France.
As the collection has continued to develop, its broad reach has remained a collecting imperative. From the 20th century, the collection features Russian avant-garde drawings and Russian non-conformist photography, British drawings and sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth. The AMFA Foundation Collection also includes art influenced by the avant-garde circles working in Paris in the first half of the 20th century. One of the collection’s signature works is Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s 1914 Cubist masterpiece, Dos Mujeres (Two Women), which Rivera painted in Paris while working with Cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. A circa 1914 drawing by American artist Max Weber also shows the distinct influence of the Cubists. The AMFA Foundation Collection also features drawings modernist John Marin made while in Paris in the early 1900s.
The AMFA Foundation Collection also highlights the contributions of U.S.-based artists at the end of the 20th century. A diverse range of modernist art movements are represented in the collection through works on paper, painting, and sculpture. The museum’s 1971 purchase of three drawings by American artists Willem de Kooning, Andrew Wyeth, and Morris Graves cemented the institution’s focus on collecting works on paper. Early American modernism, and in particular, artists affiliated with New York gallerist Alfred Stieglitz – including Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove – feature prominently. The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts is also home to the second largest collection of watercolors and drawings by American modernist John Marin in the world.
Later 20th century art movements – Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, minimalism, and conceptual art – are represented in by paintings, drawings, and sculptures by artists central to their moment, including Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol. Studies of the human figure feature prominently in the collection, which includes more than 400 artists’ self-portraits, as well as nearly 100 works by Will Barnet, illustrating the full spectrum of his career. The Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection also includes examples by some of the most influential artists working today.
In the early 1970s, the museum began to collect contemporary craft in addition to drawings and works on paper. The gift of six major works, including John Mason’s Vertical Sculpture, by the S. C. Johnson Company, laid a firm foundation for the fledgling contemporary craft collection.
Subsequent acquisitions include the stack-laminated and carved walnut trompe l’oeil (fool-the-eye) sculpture by Wendell Castle, Table with Fruit and Books, and the blown glass still life, Laid Table with Bird, Goblet, and Fruit, by Beth Lipman. Both pieces are veritable tour de force examples of their makers’ manipulation of material and technical prowess. The collection also features significant holdings of American enamel arts, British studio ceramics, contemporary teapots, basketry and other fiber arts, contemporary art jewelry, and turned wood sculpture.
Art of the American South
As a cultural beacon of the mid-South, AMFA Foundation Collection is home to a diverse selection of works by Arkansas and southern artists. Many of these works entered the collection through previous exhibitions organized by the museum, including the Prints, Drawings and Crafts Exhibition, the Regional Craft Biennial, and the Delta Exhibition, which is one of the longest-running and most prestigious juried art exhibitions in the country. Among the works acquired through these exhibitions are paintings by Al Allen, Robert Bailey, Terrence Corbin, and William D. Paul, Jr.; engravings by Evan Lindquist, the first Artist Laureate for the state of Arkansas; sculpture by Texas artists Karl Umlauf and James Surls; and watercolors by George Dombek.
A particular strength of the collection is Southern photography, including works by William Eggleston, Lisa McCord, Susan Paulsen, and Jack Spencer. Arkansas photographers such as Mike Disfarmer, William E. Davis, and Andrew Kilgore are also represented within the collection. The work of Southern artists is also featured within the craft collection. Notable highlights include the wood sculpture of Robyn Horn, the ceramics of Joe Bruhin and James Larkin, the furniture of Owen Rein and James Cottey, and the baskets of Leon Niehues.
Explore the entire Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts Foundation Collection and search by artist, title of work, place or subject.