During a short stay in Fort Worth we visited the Kimbell Art Museum, which was well rated in the tourist information. It proved an excellent choice.
Wikipedia tells us that Kay Kimbell was a wealthy Fort Worth businessman who built an empire of over 70 companies in a variety of industries. He married Velma Fuller, who kindled his interest in art collecting. They set up the Kimbell Art Foundation in 1935, and by the time of his death in 1964, the couple had amassed what was considered to be the best selection of old masters in the Southwest. Their estate was bequeathed to the Foundation, with the key directive to “build a museum of the first class”.
The building was designed by architect Louis I. Kahn and is “widely recognized as one of the most significant works of architecture of recent times”. I have to say that, from the outside, the museum is most unprepossessing, even boring. However, when you get inside you come upon an ideal space for displaying art works, with superb natural lighting coming obliquely from the vaulted ceilings and skylights.
Looking at the art works themselves, you realize that this museum is rather special. Almost every item in the collection is a quite exquisite example of a particular period of art or artist – mostly paintings and some sculptures, including early pieces such as a beautiful 8th century “Bodhisattva Maitreya’ from Thailand.
Many of the most famous European painters are represented, including many impressionists and a rare painting by Michelangelo “The Torment of Saint Anthony”.
I was led to reflect on how many of the world’s major art galleries have come from bequests from those who have made mountains of money. With money comes responsibility, and it seems that Kay Kimbell and his ilk have made good use of their money, in the great tradition of philanthropy.
The museum contains an excellent cafe serving lunches, run with great efficiency by a formidable yet friendly Dallas lady – one could well imagine her on the set of the long-running Dallas TV series.
A companion building, reached through a small garden, was added later, architected by Renzo Piano. Here is the space for exhibitions and we were lucky that the current ‘blockbuster’ touring was of the works of the impressionist and art patron Gustave Caillebotte.
This was quite an eye-opener, demonstrating what an excellent painter Caillebotte was, and also telling the story of his friendships with other impressionists and his role as patron in encouraging their development. As a man of means, he did not have the problem of lack of resources common to many who choose this profession.
Altogether, the Kimbell provided a very happy way to spend a day. Definitely ‘first class’, and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the Fort Worth/Dallas area.
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