Since the late 18th century, European art has dominated the focus of museums in the United States. America’s founding families, such as the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Gettys, often traveled to Europe, acquiring large amounts of artworks. These “masterpieces” eventually found their way into museum collections of the institutions they helped to build. Galleries dedicated to classical periods, such as Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque, can be found at nearly every art museum in the United States. Similarly, at the Tucson Museum of Art an initial donation of a work on paper by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec from Frederick R. Pleasants, of Monument’s Men fame and later curator at the Arizona State Museum, in 1959 launched the museum’s collection.
Artists and artworks of the infamous “ism” movements in European art, including Romanticism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Surrealism, and Cubism, were the primary interest for museum-goers in the 19th century. But, by the 1940s American art was all the rage and audiences started to challenge the dominance of white-male European artists on museum walls.
Today, European galleries in museums look different than they did 30 years ago. In addition to the traditional “gallery of masterpieces,” audiences are introduced to thematic and cross-generational exhibitions highlighting artworks by women, LGBTQ+, and artists of color from Europe.
Throughout this gallery notice the varying representations that expand the European canon including works by Arman, Irina Ionesco, Kathe Kollwitz, Nevan Lahart, Marie Lund, Olivier Mossett, Yinka Shonibare, and William Sweetlove.