The NCMA's art collection had its beginning in 1947 when the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $1 million for the purchase of works of art. With this appropriation, the General Assembly became the first state legislature in the United States to set aside funds for an art collection for its citizens.
Since the initial acquisition in February 1952 of 158 paintings, 2 sculptures, and 25 pieces of furniture and other decorative arts objects, purchased with a $1 million appropriation of state funds, the collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art has grown steadily. It includes major holdings in European painting from the Renaissance to the 19th century (enhanced in 1960 and 1962 by an extraordinary gift from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation of 71 works dating primarily from the Italian Renaissance and baroque periods), Egyptian funerary art, sculpture and vase painting from ancient Greece and Rome, American art of the 18th through 20th centuries, and international contemporary art. Other strengths include African, ancient American, and Jewish ceremonial objects. (The NCMA houses one of only two permanent displays of Jewish art in an American art museum.)
The Museum is actively building the collection with new acquisitions, including a gift from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation of 30 works by Auguste Rodin, making the NCMA the leading repository of this artist’s work in the southeastern United States. A gift of mid- to late 20th-century art from the collection of Jim and Mary Patton includes works by Jackie Ferrara, Adolph Gottlieb, Ellsworth Kelly, Per Kirkeby, David Park, and Sean Scully. Other new works include pieces by artists El Anatsui, Roxy Paine, Jaume Plensa, and Ursula von Rydingsvard.
The 164-acre Museum Park is home to more than two dozen monumental works of art, with artists actively involved in the restoration of the Park’s landscape and the integration of art into its natural systems.