History and the Three Museums

The Harvard Art Museums are comprised of three separate museums—the Fogg Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum, and Arthur M. Sackler Museum—each with a different history, collection, guiding philosophy, and identity.

Fogg Museum

The Fogg Museum opened in 1895 on the northern edge of Harvard Yard in a modest Beaux-Arts building designed by Richard Morris Hunt, twenty-one years after the President and Fellows of Harvard College appointed Charles Eliot Norton the first professor of art history in America. It was made possible when, in 1891, Mrs. Elizabeth Fogg gave a gift in memory of her husband to build “an Art Museum to be called and known as the William Hayes Fogg Museum of Harvard College.” In 1927, the Fogg Museum moved to its home at 32 Quincy Street.

Designed by architects Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch, and Abbott of Boston, the joint art museum and teaching facility was the first purpose-built structure for the specialized training of art scholars, conservators, and museum professionals in North America. With an early collection that consisted largely of plaster casts and photographs, the Fogg Museum is now renowned for its holdings of Western paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings dating from the Middle Ages to the present.

Busch-Reisinger Museum

The Busch-Reisinger Museum was founded in 1903 as the Germanic Museum. Unique among North American museums, the Busch-Reisinger is dedicated to the study of all modes and periods of art from central and northern Europe, with an emphasis on German-speaking countries. In 1921 the Germanic Museum moved to Adolphus Busch Hall, built partly with funds from Adolphus Busch’s son-in-law, Hugo Reisinger, and in 1950 it was renamed the Busch-Reisinger Museum. The museum moved again in 1991, this time to Werner Otto Hall at 32 Quincy Street, designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. Adolphus Busch Hall continues to house the founding collection of plaster casts of medieval art and is the venue for concerts on its world-renowned Flentrop pipe organ, while the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s holdings include significant works of Austrian Secession art, German expressionism, 1920s abstraction, and materials related to the Bauhaus. Other strengths include late-medieval sculpture and eighteenth-century art. The museum also holds noteworthy postwar and contemporary art from German-speaking Europe.

Arthur M. Sackler Museum

In 1912, Langdon Warner taught the first courses in Asian art at Harvard, and the first at any American university. By 1977, Harvard’s collections of Asian, ancient, and Islamic and later Indian art had grown sufficiently in size and importance to require a larger space for their display and study. With the generosity of Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, a leading psychiatrist, entrepreneur, art collector, and philanthropist, the Harvard Art Museums founded a museum dedicated to works from Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, a new museum building at 485 Broadway designed by James Stirling, opened in 1985. This structure remains the home of the History of Art and Architecture Department and the Media Slide Library.

Renovation and Expansion

The Harvard Art Museums’ recent renovation and expansion builds on the legacies of these three museums and unites their remarkable collections under one roof for the first time. Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s responsive design preserved the Fogg Museum’s landmark 1927 facility, while transforming the space to accommodate twenty-first-century needs.

Following a six-year building project, the museums now feature 40 percent more gallery space, an expanded Art Study Center, conservation labs, and classrooms, and a striking new glass roof that bridges the facility’s historic and contemporary architecture.

In line with Harvard’s commitment to sustainability, the museums’ renovation and expansion achieved LEED Gold certification for incorporating a wide range of green building technologies including, energy efficient LED bulbs and an innovative water conservation system. The new Harvard Art Museums’ building is more functional, accessible, spacious, and above all, more transparent. The three constituent museums retain their distinct identities in this new facility, yet their close proximity provides exciting opportunities to experience works of art in a broader context.