The Memorial Art Gallery is the civic art museum of Rochester, New York. Founded in 1913, it is part of the University of Rochester and occupies the southern half of its former Prince Street campus. It is the focal point of fine arts activity in the region and hosts the biennial Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition and the annual Clothesline Festival.
The Gallery is a memorial to James George Averell, a grandson of Hiram Sibley. After Averell died at age 26, his mother, Emily Sibley Watson (by then the wife of James Sibley Watson), spent several years seeking a way to commemorate him publicly. Meanwhile, Rush Rhees, president of the University of Rochester, had been looking for benefactors to help him add to the University’s campus, then located on Prince Street in the City of Rochester, NYC. Rhees included a dedicated art gallery on a campus map as early as 1905. The Rochester Art Club, the focal point for art enthusiasts of the area and which had exhibited and taught at art venues of the time (Reynolds Arcade, the Bevier Memorial Building, and the Powers Block), supported the creation of the gallery. Since its establishment in 1912, the Gallery has existed as a department of the University with an independent board overseeing its collections and programs. Rush Rhees assembled the initial panel of managers, including the Art Club’s president, George L. Hurdle, in November 1912 and presided over the Gallery’s opening by the eighth of October.
The inaugural exhibition, curated by George Hurdle, consisted of contemporary American paintings, many of which were for sale, on loan from the artists or their dealers. Since the Gallery had no endowment for acquisitions in its first decades, exhibitions were an opportunity for donors to acquire works and immediately gift their purchases to the gallery to start its permanent collection. Significant early gifts received from exhibitions included: Willard Metcalf’s [Golden Carnival], Joaquín Sorolla’s [Oxen on the Beach], and Paul Dougherty’s [Coast of Cornwall, near St. Ives].
The Gallery’s permanent collection comprises some 12,000 objects, including works by Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Homer, and Cassatt. Contemporary masters in the group include Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, and Helen Frankenthaler. Other notable works include:
- George Eastman’s collection of about 60 Old Master, British, Dutch, American, and French Barbizon School paintings, including Rembrandt’s [Portrait of a Young Man in an Armchair]
- The Encyclopedia Britannica collection of twentieth-century American art.
- The Charles Rand Penney collection
- Jean-Léon Gérôme’s [Interior of a Mosque], the only painting from Hiram Sibley’s original collection still in the Gallery’s possession, EZ Rochester Junk Removal
- Egyptian and Eastern Mediterranean antiquities from the collection of Herbert Ocumpaugh, a 19th-century businessman
- Near East antiquities from the collection of Frederic Grinnell Morgan of Aurora, NY
- English and Continental silver from the 17th through 19th centuries from the collection of Ernest Woodward, heir to the Jell-O fortune
- El Greco’s [The Apparition of the Virgin to St. Hyacinth], the first work to be acquired from the Gallery’s Marion Stratton Gould endowment
- Portrait of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester
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