Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, USA
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, California, USA

Quick Facts about SBMA

  • Comprises 27,000 works of art – an art museum of magnitude and quality more commonly found in cities eight times the size of Santa Barbara
  • Spans more than 5,000 years of human creativity
  • Includes classical antiquities rivaled in the West only by the J. Paul Getty Museum
  • Includes masterpieces of French Impressionism. No West Coast museum owns more Monet paintings
  • Presents at its front door Portrait of Mexico Today, 1932, the only intact mural in the United States by David Alfaro Siqueiros, and capstone of the Museum’s distinguished collection of Latin American art
  • Brings world-renowned exhibitions to Santa Barbara
  • Originates exhibitions that travel to museums across the Americas and Europe
  • Welcomes 150,000 visitors to exhibitions and activities each year
  • Provides education programs to over 40,000 people in Santa Barbara County each year, free transportation for school groups and after-school activities, and free California State Standard based eduation programs for Santa Barbara School district students in grades K-12
  • Receives less than 1% of its budget from government grants and no regular tax dollars
  • Spends approximately 20% of every dollar on education programs

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art opened to the public on June 5, 1941, in a building that was at one time the Santa Barbara Post Office (1914–1932). Chicago architect David Adler simplified the building’s façade and created the Museum’s galleries, most notably Ludington Court which offers a dramatic sense of arrival for museum visitors. The newly renovated Park Wing Entrance and Luria Activities Center open in June 2006.

Over its history the Museum has expanded with the addition of the Stanley R. McCormick Gallery in 1942 and the Sterling and Preston Morton Galleries in 1963. Significant expansions came when the Alice Keck Park Wing opened to the public in 1985 and the Jean and Austin H. Peck, Jr. Wing in 1998. The Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House, a center for art education activities, was established in 1991.

Today, the Museum’s 60,000 square feet include exhibition galleries, a Museum Store, Cafe, a 154-seat auditorium, a library containing 50,000 books and 55,000 slides, a children’s gallery dedicated to participatory interactive programming and an 11,500-square-foot off-site facility, the Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House.

Permanent Collection

The Museum’s collection of the arts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas includes paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, ceramics, glass, jades, bronzes, lacquer, and textiles. The broad areas in which SBMA holds a significant number of works of exceptional quality include international antiquities from China, India, Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the Near East and 19th-, 20th-, and 21st-century art from Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Particular strengths of the collection are 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, contemporary American painting, photography, and the arts of Asia, especially China.


The collection of marble Roman sculptures reflects the connoisseurship and generosity of one of the Museum's major donors, Wright S. Ludington. Surrounding a large-scale loutrophoros from 4th-century B.C. Greece, in the entrance court of the Museum, are the monumental Hermes formerly in the Lansdowne Collection, and other important Graeco-Roman figural works. Also on view is a small but superb collection of ancient bronzes, Near-Eastern and Greek ceramics, and ancient glass. Individual works of particularl importance include a diorite head of Gudea (Sumerian, 2nd-century B.C.), Cycladic figures, and a 19th-dynasty Egyptian limestone relief. This exceptionally fine collection--rich in works of outstanding importance--is rivaled in the western United States only by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Asian Art

At the Museum's inception in 1941, nineteen Chinese robes were given by Mrs. Philip Stewart, and, at the same time, ninety-two Asian stone and wood religious sculptures and ceramic works from the Charles Henry Ludington collection were loaned for permanent display (and later donated). These objects, along with select acquisitions made by Ina T. Campbell in the 1940s, formed the nucleus of the Museum's Asian holdings. This collection was further enriched by significant gifts in the past two decades--Kiyochika prints, Chinese textiles and ceramics, jades, Japanese lacquer, and Tibetan art. Today the Asian collection consists of over 2,600 objects in a variety of media, and spans a period of 4,000 years from diverse Asian cultures--China, Japan, India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia. Included are Hindu and Buddhist sculptures, Chinese ceramics dating from the Neolithic (ca. 2,500 BC) to the 19th century, Japanese woodblock prints from the 18th through the early 20th centuries, and over one hundred Chinese Qing dynasty costumes and textiles.

European Art

The depth of the Museum’s collection of European art is in its holdings of 19th-century French painting, although there are a handful of fine examples of 18th-century French and British painting, mostly in the genre of portraiture. Like the rest of the permanent collection, the strengths of SBMA’s European holdings derive from those of its foundational collection, the gifts and bequest of Wright S. Ludington (1900-1992). The Museum has received additional gifts of art by Barbizon school artists Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Impressionist artists Claude Monet (1840-1926), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), and Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)) and Post-Impressionist artists Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), and Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940), collecting areas for which it is best known. However, the quality of the collection is equally strong in classical early modernism, with important works by Georges Braque (1882-1963), Henri Matisse (1869-1954), and Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Ludington’s interest in British Modernism also accounts for the Museum’s unusually deep holdings in this area with major works by Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), and Percy Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957). The quality of SBMA’s European paintings is complemented by its holdings in the medium of sculpture, reflecting another of Ludington’s abiding interests, with a chronological breadth that stretches from Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887) and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875) to Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973).

Works on paper complement and expand upon the painting and sculpture collections. Drawings range from the 17th to the 20th centuries, with notable strengths in French and British 19th and early 20th century work. The print collection comprises Old Masters such as Rembrandt (1606-1669), Dürer (1471-1528), and Piranesi (1720-1778), over 4,000 French satirical prints including the entire oeuvre of Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), and important works by French printmakers involved in the etching and lithography revivals of the later 19th century.

American Art

Spanning approximately two centuries--from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century--the core of this collection area consists of the original 60 paintings of the Preston Morton Collection given in 1960, now expanded through gifts and purchases to include some 400 paintings and sculptures. Examples of portraiture and still life are strong in each historical period, while the development of American landscape painting is represented with an outstanding selection by key artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Works of importance by Albert Bierstadt, George Inness, John Singer Sargent, Frederic Remington, William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, Marsden Hartley, and Milton Avery place this survey collection among the best in California.

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Opening information

Tuesday - Sunday 11 am to 5 pm
Closed Mondays

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