Sometimes, going to art museums and appreciating works of art can be quite pleasing and relaxing. That is why if you happen to travel to San Antonio, do not forget to check out the McNay Art Museum. This museum is the legacy of an artist, heiress, and a collector named Jessie Marion Koogler McNay. Upon her death in 1950, she decided to give the city of San Antonio her twenty-three-acre estate and two-thirds of her wealth to help establish and support a museum of modern art. In this article, we are going to know more about the rich history of this museum.
Jessie Marion Koogler McNay’s Spanish-Mediterranean style villa is located at North Braunfels Avenue. It was designed by Robert M. Ayres and Atlee B., and it was constructed in 1927. The villa is designed with rare tiles, woods, ornamental wrought iron, and designs hand-stenciled by McNay herself. Her original collection of artworks included paintings by Georges Rouault, Chaim Soutine, Vincent van Gogh, and other artists in the Expressionist tradition. Jessie Marion Koogler McNay also has a substantial collection of arts by watercolor artists such as Maurice Prendergast, Mary Cassatt, John Marin, Boyer Gonzales Jr., and John Marin. In the 1930s, McNay was known to be active in the artists’ colonies in New Mexico. It is where she started collecting furniture, textiles, jewelry, pottery, and paintings. However, her lack of interest in graphic arts, sculpture, as well as individual modern paintings gave significant gaps that are typical in a private art collection.
In 1954, the Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute opened to the public. Its founding director, John Palmer Leeper, promised to fill the gaps in McNay’s collection as well as broaden its scope. This is an initiative that was supported by substantial donations from other local collectors. In 1955, Frederic G. Oppenheimer and Lucille Joske gave their distinguished collection of Gothic and Medieval art to the museum. The collection included stone sculptures, wooden figures, examples of old stained glass, tapestries, and significant panel paintings. In 1963, McNay Art Museum received over 15 works from the Thomas Baker Slick Jr. collection, major paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, and monumental sculptures by Barbara Hepworth.
Aside from that, the McNay Arts Institute’s representation of 20th-century art was also improved. They were given about sixty-two works of art. These included sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and Edgar Degas by Sylvan and Mary Lang in 1973. Ten years after that, the institution changed its name to Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum. Besides that, it also became one of the most critical theater research centers in the country. In 1984, Robert L.B.Tobin decided to donate his collection, which includes 8,000 volumes, where 3,000 of it is books about theater arts. The group also has drawings, paintings, costumes, and stage designs by Aleksandr Benois, Leon Bakst, Natalya Concharova, and Eugene Berman.
Through the years, McNay improved its facilities to accommodate its growing collections and services. In 1970, the museum opened the Emily Wells Brown Wing, which had an auditorium, several offices, a sculpture pavilion, as well as a library. In the early 1990s, they also opened the Blanche and John Leeper Auditorium, making the museum facility measure more than 64,000 square feet.
Aside from the permanent exhibits, the McNay Art Museum hosts an average of ten exhibitions every year. Each presentation covers a broad spectrum with a certain number of shows each season, which are dedicated to artists. Aside from that, the McNay Art Museum also has a long tradition of supporting regional artists where they organize solo exhibitions for different artists.
In Jesse Marion Koogler McNay’s will, she named seven trustees who, in turn, formed a self-perpetuating board. In 1988, the board was expanded, where it included six additional trustees elected to four-year terms. Today, the museum is funded by private gifts, memberships, endowment, as well as grants from different organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1971 the McNay Museum became accredited by the American Association of Museums. It also recognized by the Texas Associations of Museums in 1984. During the early 1990s, the museum had an average attendance of 100,000 visitors per year.