The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Well situated near the downtown area, in Houston’s Museum District, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is a must-see on a trip to this Texas city. With more than 65,000 pieces in the Museum’s extensive collection, there is a world to see and explore.

These works not only cover the globe with items from Asia, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and more, but also represent myriad different mediums, from film to decorative arts, from painting and sculpture. The largest cultural institution in the Southwest, the MFAH delivers its mission of community service to nearly a million visitors each year. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston



The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston can trace its origins back to 1924, when the original building opened its doors. At the time, it was the third art museum to be opened in the South and the first in Texas. The original building was built in the neoclassical style, as its architect, William Ward Watkin, designed it to be a temple of art. A much-needed expansion in 1953 made room for the Museum’s growing collections.

Expansion continued throughout the years, with the addition of the Alfred C. Glassell School of Art in 1979, the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden in 1986, and the Central Administration and Junior School Building in 1994. The mid 1990s saw the need for another major expansion, at which point Spanish architect Rafael Moneo was hired. Opening in 2000, the new Audrey Jones Beck Building covers an impressive 192,447 square feet with a full 85,000 of them dedicated to the galleries. Seen as an eclectic complication of architectural design, the building has become a fixture of the Houston Museum District, connecting easily with other buildings via the underground Wilson Tunnel. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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The tens of thousands of works in the Museum’s collection cover a wide range of geographies, time periods, and mediums. Spread across three campuses, the Museum’s main work is housed in the Audrey Jones Beck Building. The Bayou Bend building located in the River Oaks Community, is home to the MFAH’s collection of early American decorative arts. The Rienzi, its collection of collection of European decorative arts, and adjacent garden, are also located in the River Oaks Community.

Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas

Works in this collection span from as far back as 500 B.C., all the way to the twentieth century. The three main areas cover wide spans of both time and distance: Sub-Sahara African, Pre-Columbian, Native American, and art of the native peoples of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands. Some pieces of this collection are on display at the Glassell School of Art, including ancient gold works from Africa, Indonesia and Pre-Columbian Central and South America.

American Painting and Sculpture

Pieces in the American Painting and Sculpture collection are housed both in the main Audrey Jones Beck Building, as well as the Bayou Bend location. These include works by renowned American artists John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully and many more. The collection boasts a noteworthy collection of 19th-century landscape paintings in the tradition of the Hudson River School with works by such notable artists as John Singer Sargent. Pieces in this collection also include work by twentieth century artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, and more.


Visitors to the Audrey Jones Beck Building will find themselves wandering through atriums filled with light, illuminating works of the ancient world. The Museum boasts more than 450 pieces in this collection, with works spanning the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Ancient Egypt. Items of note include an Egyptian Coffin, a gold myrtle wreath, a Hellenistic Greek Bronze Head, among many, many more. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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Arts of Asia

The Arts of Asia Collection at MFAH is an impressive journey through the transmission of ideas, philosophies and religion, spanning nearly five thousand years. With works from Japan, Korea, China, India, Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, the collection covers an enormous area of the globe. Mediums found in Arts of Asia include sculpture, painting, and photography, and include a collection of important works on loan from the Tokyo National Museum.

Decorative Arts, Craft & Design

Decorative arts celebrate artistry in the objects around us, from jewelry to furniture to household items. Pieces in this collection span from the 17th century to works made as recently as the current year, celebrating such varied movements as Art Nouveau, Bauhaus, Scandinavian Modern, and more. Particular areas of interest include a collection of pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as the Helen Williams Drutt modern and contemporary jewelry collection and the Garth Clark and Mark del Vecchio Modern and Contemporary ceramics collection.

European Art

From the Renaissance through to modern times, the Art of the European collection includes works by some of the world’s most well-known artists. These include Rembrandt, Goya, Van Gogh, and Renoir, to name but a handful. Much of this collection was made possible through generous private donations and gifts, including works by old world masters to post-impressionist and early modernist visionaries.


The cinematic works in the Museum’s collection seek to honor film and elevate it as an expression of popular fine art. This collection includes a noteworthy assemblage of the films of Robert Frank, with the Museum managing distribution of 25 of his works spanning the last half of the twentieth century and into the next. Films available for viewing change periodically; as such, visitors are advised to review the Museum’s film schedule online prior to making their visit.

Art of the Islamic World

The Museum’s collection of work from the Islamic world is growing, and represents a key area of acquisition and focus for MFAH. Items already part of this permanent exhibit include works dating back to the seventh century, and include pieces of jewelry, painting, ceramics, metalwork, manuscripts and more. With artifacts from Morocco, Turkey, and the Arabian Peninsula, to large expanses from Spain to Southeast Asia, the Art of the Islamic World shown at the Museum encompasses a large part of the globe stretching back through time. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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Latin American Art

Boasting more than 2,000 pieces, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s work with Latin American Art goes beyond merely displaying the efforts of fine artists. It has become a research institute, endeavoring to collect, exhibit and educate the public, bringing to life the work of artists from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America, as well as those artists of Latin American descent in the United States. Special collections include the Brillembourge Capriles Collection of Latin American Art, the Caribbean Art Fund Collection, the Fundación Gego Collection, among others.

Modern and Contemporary Art

The collection of Modern and Contemporary Art at MFAH is robust. Covering more than 1,400 pieces, from almost every continent, some of the world’s most well-known artists are represented. These included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Koonig, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and more. Special collections include the Caroline Wiess Law Collection, which includes work by many artists including Pablo Picasso, and the Edward R. Broida Bequest, which includes 200 additional paintings, sculptures and paper works. In addition, the collection also features Texas Highlights, showcasing modern works of artists in the state.


The collection of photography held by MFAH documents the entire history of the medium, with its earliest works dating back to the 19th century. With 30,000 items, this collection is formidable, representing 4,000 photographers from literally ever continent on the globe. Special Collections include the Target Collection of American Photography, the Manfred Heiting Collection, and the Marvins Family Collections, which include many works from the mid-1800s. The Allan Chasanoff Photographic Collection, which features works by Ansel Adams and Jan Groover and others, is another must-see at the Museum.

Prints & Drawings

Pieces in the Prints & Drawings collection celebrate work done on paper, with items dating back as far as the middle ages. These take many forms, from wood engravings, to drawings, to prints. Some represented include rare prints, impressions and engravings from old European masters, such as Rembrandt, Canaletto, and Albrecht Dürer. Other noteworthy pieces include a self-portrait by Edvard Munch, and wood engravings by Winslow Homer.

Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation

Located in the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the works in the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation collection include works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The collection was made possible through the generosity of Sarah Campbell Blaffer, a native Texan who had a vision to make more art available to her fellow Texans. Items in this collection include 150 works by old European masters, and also some twentieth century works.

Bayou Bend

Situated in a separate location in the River Oaks Community, Bayou Bend is the home to much of the Museum’s collection of American Decorative Arts. Housed in the former home of local philanthropist, Ima Hogg, the original pieces of the collection were largely acquired by Hogg. Having built the home for the collection, she gave the structure and its contents to the MFAH in 1957. Visitors will be able to peruse 2,500 objects, arranged in the home’s 28 rooms. The house is surrounded by 14 acres of gardens that mix both the home’s Southern heritage and the Beaux Arts design influences of the American Country Place era.


Also located in the River Oak Community, Rienzi houses the Museum’s European Decorative Arts Collection. The house, gifted to the Museum in 1997, was originally built in 1952. With gardens designed by prominent landscape architect Ralph Ellis Gunn, visitors will want to be sure to set aside time to tour the home’s four acres of land. Pieces in the home’s interior date from the early seventeenth to mid nineteenth centuries, and include art, paintings, furniture and porcelain. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston provides a full calendar of events to entertain and educate. From visiting exhibitions to film showings, the landscape of activities is constantly changing. Other interesting events include Art Crowd!, the MFAH’s group for younger members, which includes food, drinks, music and an in-depth look at an exhibition. Art Bites tours are docent led walks throughout the museum, while other activities focus on a particular artists, taking a deeper look at their work. The Museum also hosts periodic performances and lectures to create a more enriching experience. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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One of the key tenets of MFAH’s mission is to bring art to the community; one of the key ways it accomplishes this is through education. For adults, the Museum offers lectures, workshops, docent tours and even book clubs devoted to art literature that seek to help participants discover art in new ways. An abundance of family events provide enticing experiences for young ones, including Family Studio, Family Storybook Circle, Saturday Sketch!, MFAH Playdate, and many more. In addition, the Museum provides field trips and educational opportunities for schools ranging from kindergarten all the way through to university students. The Glassell School of Art also hosts a teaching institute, with studio art classes available in a variety of mediums, as well as art history instruction. Children’s classes at Glassell are available for kids from age three through eighteen. Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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Plan Your Visit

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is an icon and institution in the State, providing countless opportunities for cultural enrichment for all who visit. The Museum also strives to accommodate those with disabilities, from guides/ programs for the visually impaired and American Sign Language interpreters for the hearing impaired, to programming for those with Alzheimer’s or Dementia and assistance for those with limited mobility. With an ever-changing schedule, visitors are advised to refer to the Museum’s website prior to arrival, in order to make the most of their visit.

In addition, guests can also visit the MFA Café, or the MFA Shop while enjoying their day. As hours change daily, and the Museum is closed one day per week, it is best to refer to the website prior to arrival. The MFAH is easily accessible by car or public transit, with parking available nearby.

Back to: Best Romantic Things to Do in Houston, Texas Address: 1001 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77005, USA, Phone: 713-639-7300 Photo: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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Best Things to Do in Houston: Museum of Fine Arts

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