A Brief History of the Museum


The oldest art museum in the Pacific Northwest, the Portland Art Museum was founded in late 1892 when seven leaders from Portland’s business and cultural institutions created the Portland Art Association. The goal of the Association was to create a first-class art museum that would be accessible to all citizens.


By 1905, the Museum had outgrown its location in the public library and moved into its own building at SW 5th and Taylor. The first exhibition in the new building featured watercolors and paintings from the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition, which was held in Portland. Museum Curator Henrietta H. Failing organized the exhibition with New England artist Frank Vincent DuMond.


The Museum’s final location opened to the public on November 18, 1932, at the corner of SW Park Avenue and Jefferson Street. The building, designed by noted Portland architect Pietro Belluschi, is situated along downtown Portland’s South Park Blocks and remains a landmark in the city’s Cultural District. It was constructed with a lead gift of $100,000 from Winslow B. Ayer, the same patron who selected the Museum’s collection of plaster casts 40 years earlier. For this reason, the original portion of today’s larger main building is referred to as the Ayer Wing.


The Portland Art Museum celebrated a subdued 50th Anniversary in 1942, due to World War II. The following year, staff completed the Museum’s first full inventory, which counted a permanent collection of 3,300 objects and 750 works on long-term loan.


The Portland Art Museum celebrated its centennial in 1992, which was marked by the purchase of an adjacent Masonic temple, now known as the Mark Building. The purchase was completed in 1994, the same year that a capital campaign to finance a refurbishment of the Main Building began. This ambitious project included improving the galleries, reinstalling the permanent collection, and equipping the building with a climate control system. The refurbishment allowed the Museum to host the Imperial Tombs of China exhibition, which brought 430,000 visitors to the Museum the following year.