Though the Museum's collections are encyclopedic in nature, with pieces ranging in date from 5,000 B.C. to 2001 A.D., SDMA is perhaps best known for its collection of Spanish old master paintings. The sculptural details on the building's façade, designed in the mid-1920s before the collection was formed, anticipated the Museum's strength in Spanish works by Murillo, Zurbaran , Ribera, Catena and El Greco. The Museum currently owns one or more paintings by each of these masters. This aspect of the collection was established early in the institution's history thanks to the donations of Anne R. and Amy Putnam during the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to the artists listed above, the Putnams also furnished the Museum with important works by Italian masters Giorgione, Giotto, Veronese, Luini, Canaletto, and Guardi. Works by Rubens, Hals, van Dyck, and van Ruisdael, also donated by the Putnams, represent the Northern European School.
Additional gifts and museum purchases later in the century have rounded out the collection of European art with examples by all the major French Impressionists, the Barbizon School, and French Academic painters, not to mention works by modern masters Matisse, Dufy, Beckman, and Modigliani.
The American collection has flourished over the past three-quarters century as well. In addition to paintings and decorative arts dating back to the colonial era, the collection of American art features works by Durand, Cassatt, Inness, Eakins, and Chase. Meanwhile, several works by Georgia O'Keeffe, works by the "Ash Can" school artists, and paintings by modernists Dove and Avery are just a few of the highlights from the Museum's collection of early twentieth-century American art. These works of American modernism provide a nice complement to SDMA's fine collection of European modern art, with examples by Dali, Magritte, Rivera, Miró, Calder, Moore, and Hepworth.
The collection of Asian art numbers over 4,000 objects and is, in fact, the largest area of the Museum's holdings. These include, among other objects: Buddhist sculptures from China, Japan, India, and South Asia; Chinese bronzes, jades, ceramics, and paintings; Japanese woodblock prints; and the largest collection of South Asian paintings outside of India, donated by Edwin Binney 3rd in 1990.
Recently, the Museum has made significant acquisitions of contemporary and Latin American art as it strives to build those important areas of the collection and to provide a bridge between existing collection strengths. Many of these works of art, along with hundreds of other important selections from the Museum's collections, are featured in a new museum catalogue, the first significant publication on SDMA's collections in more than ten years.
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