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 the University's 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 S. Watson (by then the wife of James Sibley Watson), spent several years seeking a way to publicly commemorate him. 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. Hiram Sibley had some 30 years previous funded the construction of the University's library which displayed part of Sibley's art collection on its upper floor for a time, but Rhees wanted to construct a dedicated art gallery. The Rochester Art Club, which was 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. Rhees assembled a board of managers, including the Art Club's president, George L. Herdle, in November 1912 and by the eighth of the following October, presided over the Gallery's opening. The inaugural exhibition consisted of paintings from dealers for sale, with the Gallery taking a 10% commission. The most wealthy families immediately gifted their purchases to the gallery to start its permanent collection.
Exhibits in the early years of the Gallery consisted of loans from the private collections of George Eastman, the Sibleys, the Watsons, and other prominent Rochester families. Herdle labored mightily to keep the Gallery's walls filled with new works until his untimely death in 1922 at which point his daughter and University of Rochester graduate, Gertrude L. Herdle began what would become a 40-year career as the museum's director. Another daughter, Isabel C. Herdle, served in various curatorial roles beginning in 1932 after schooling at Radcliffe College, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and stints at the Fogg and the de Young museums.
In all of its years of operation, the Gallery has endured only two thefts: During a 1927 Buddhist exhibition, a youth made off with a Tibetan banner on loan from a local family. Five years later, after the youth had developed into a career fencer, police recovered the banner from his small apartment. Also, in 1978, someone pinched Picasso's Flowers in a Blue Vase during a busy Sunday afternoon; the painting found its way back to the Gallery within three weeks.
The Gallery, though sited on the University of Rochester's campus, existed as a separate organization from the University until 1935, when Alan Valentine renegotiated the 1912 charter.
Today, the Gallery is supported primarily by its membership, the University of Rochester, and public funds from Monroe County and the New York State Council on the Arts.
The Gallery's permanent collection comprises some 11,000 objects, including works by Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Homer and Cassatt. Contemporary masters in the collection include Wendell Castle, Albert Paley and Helen Frankenthaler. Other notable works include:Jean-Léon Gérôme's Interior of a Mosque, the only painting from Hiram Sibley's original collection still in the Gallery's possession
Egyptian and Eastern Mediterranean antiquities from the collection of Herbert Ocumpaugh, a 19th-century businessman
Near East antiquities from the collection of Edwin Barber Morgan's son
English and Continental silver from the 17th through 19th centuries from the collection of Ernest Woodward, heir to the Jell-O fortune
George Eastman's collection of about 60 Old Master, British, Dutch, American, and French Barbizon School paintings
El Greco's The Apparition of the Virgin to St. Hyacinth
Rembrandt's Portrait of a Young Man in an Armchair
Portrait of Colonel Nathaniel Rochester
Woman in Red by Maud Humphrey. Her son, Humphrey Bogart, also loaned two of her sketches to a 1952 exhibition.
William Congdon Eiffel Tower #1, Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Milton Avery's Haircut by the Sea, donated by Roy Neuberger in 1963
The Gallery exhibited still photography and motion pictures until the 1949 opening of the George Eastman House.
The Gallery began featuring arts and crafts of various immigrant groups starting in 1920, when a Homelands Exhibition was organized in Rochester's Exposition park for 10 days. Director George Herdle organized local teams to solicit works from Rochester ethnic groups for the exhibition.
Besides hosting exhibitions, classes, and educational programs, the Gallery puts on such major events as the biennial Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition and the annual Clothesline Festival.The Rochester-Finger Lakes Exhibition is a biennial competition for artwork from New York's 27 westernmost counties. It is judged by guest jurors, which have included Charles E. Burchfield, John Bauer, former director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Thomas Messer, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Past winners include Wendell Castle, Albert Paley, Honoré Sharrer, Hans Christensen, Bill Stewart, Graham Marks, and Kathy Calderwood. It grew out of the Rochester Art Club's annual members-only exhibitions which were held in the Gallery starting in 1914, and became a separate event in 1938 under its current name.
The Clothesline Festival is an open-air exhibition where visitors buy artwork directly from New York state exhibitors and enjoy live entertainment and family activities. The Gallery reluctantly initiated the Festival as an unjuried show in 1957, and the Festival has consistently proved a crowd-pleaser as well as a means to bolster the Gallery's budget.
The museum is located on the University of Rochester's former Prince Street campus and consists of the following structures: