The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum is itself a work of art. Located close to downtown San Antonio, its large grounds and plentiful trees shelter it McNay museum entrance from the nearby roads. The landscaping is impeccable. Even now, in March, we walked past flowering trees and sculpted shrubs, past a lovely lush fountain and a number of statues, up a slight hill to the museum, which was at one time Marion McNay's home.
The museum charges no admission, but accepts donations, and the docents invited us to view the documentary video. Marion Koogler McNay is the lady's maiden name, which she reverted to after her divorces. She married four times -- apparently the first time was her love, but her husband died very young, at the end of the First World War. Subsequent husbands incuded the optometrist who owned the land where this house now stands (it went with her house to her in the divorce settlement) and a painter from New Mexico, one of whose works hangs on the gallery walls. Wealthy in her own right, and with a lifetime love of art, especially painting, she had the house designed deliberately to showcase her collection. During the depression and the following Georgia O'Keeffe painting tough years for San Antonio, she opened an outbuilding and part of the grounds as an art school, and later presented her home and her collection to the city. Generous citizens have added to the collection and built wings on the building.
The collection includes about 14,000 works; only a very small number are on display on the uncrowded gallery walls. One addition to the original house is the sculpture gallery, another addition is an elegant and comfortable-looking art and theatrical design library (two stories, connected by a spiral staircase which itself is an artwork). The library is open to any visitor wanting to do research. The architecture of the original building is Tiled courtyard staircase southwestern, with lots of tile and ironwork inside and out, a courtyard in the center, with wings enclosing it.
We even like the guards. Each one had a little tidbit of information to offer to visitors -- one told us The Smithsonian is building a new museum in San Antonio which will specialize in Latin American art; another guard made sure we appreciated the staircase and the sculpture at the library entrance; a third showed us, from a catalog, one of the paintings we would have seen if the closed galleries had been open.
We love to wander this building, but we especially like the art. With the exception of a small, odd collection of 15th century religious sculpture, most of the works are from 1850 through the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the major painters are represented here, often by unusual works. For example, we saw the first painting sold by Diego Rivera, and in the next room was the first painting bought by Marion Koogler -- another Rivera painting. A Picasso is monotone, an O'Keeffe floral (one of three of her works) is a large lime-green and pink-orange piece; surprisingly unlike her lilies. Art Nouveau secretary
One room featured works by Alexandra Exter, a Russian woman who in the 1920s designed costumes and marionettes for Russian theater and movies. There are lots of sketches and one marionette; a small TV plays a video of one of the movies -- most never got made because of lack of support for these Russian experimentalists.
One only piece of furniture is on display, but that one is a stunner -- an art nouveau bookcase, which holds several art nouveau ceramic pieces. Small sculptures by Giacometti, Henry Moore, and others are sprinkled about. Several of the galleries were closed today, because they are preparing for the annual Gala for the museum's Foundation -- we hope they have a wonderful time and will raise lots of money!
Outdoors, amid the lovely trees, two bridal photographs were being taken. The museum allows non-commercial photography and it is apparently a favorite location for bridal pictures -- the only restriction is that the museum restrooms may not be used for changing; as we left, we noticed a car almost completely covered in sheets -- just as we passed, a young lady emerged, patting down the skirts of her train.