Collecting at the BMA

The Baltimore Museum of Art is home to 95,000 works of art, including a small number by African American artists. It famously houses the Cone Collection of European modern art, built by two remarkable sisters from a local Jewish family in the early twentieth century. More exceptional still is its collection of African art and its extensive holdings in works on paper.

The first pieces by African American artists to enter the collection came under varied circumstances in the 1940s. Vivian Cook of the Women’s Cooperative Civic League organized the acquisitions of a water color painting by Dox Thrash in 1941 and one by Jacob Lawrence in 1946. The Federal Works Progress Administration gave the BMA prints by Samuel J. Brown, Sargent Johnson, Charles L. Sallee Jr. and Dox Thrash on long-term loan in 1943, part of a larger scale distribution of its holdings to public institutions. BMA Director Adelyn Breeskin orchestrated the purchase of three paintings by Haywood Bill Rivers in 1948.

A small spike in acquisitions in the 1970s was followed by a larger one in the 1990s.

Concerted efforts to build the collection in this area have grown since 2010, and it is a priority for Christopher Bedford, Director of the BMA since 2016.

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