The collections of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art range from the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world to artwork created in the first years of the 21st century. A small selection from the 20,000 objects in the collection is featured in this section of the website. The various collections including Decorative Arts, Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper are among the most comprehensive of any college museum in the country. The collections continue to grow through purchase, gift, and bequest.
The Museum of Art permanent collection holds over 5,000 works of art. Selected strengths include The Marsden Hartley Memorial Collection, modern and contemporary works on paper, photographs, select holdings of pre-modern prints, contemporary Chinese art (particularly photographs), pre-Columbian art, African art, and works by Maine artists and artists of national and international significance working in Maine.
The OMAA is the only museum in the State of Maine devoted exclusively to the exhibition and collection of American Art. The Permanent Collection includes almost 1600 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, photography and graphics. It houses one of the largest collections of ceramic sculpture by Carl Walters; watercolors by Eliot O’Hara; oils by Henry Strater; and drawings and sculpture by Isabella Howland.
The Museum's holdings of 20th-century prints are especially strong with fine examples of German Expressionist graphics from the David and Eva Bradford Collection; a wide variety of post-World War II American printmakers including Leonard Baskin, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Robert Motherwell, and Robert Rauschenberg; and Pop Art silkscreens by Andy Warhol, Robert Indiana, Ed Ruscha, and Roy Lichtenstein. The contemporary print collection continues to grow with recent additions of works by Helen Frankenthaler, Judy Pfaff, Alison Saar, and Pat Steir and selections from the Vinalhaven Press. The Portland curator and art collector Bruce Brown has been an invaluable source for much of the contemporary print collection. The photography collection surveys the history of the medium from early daguerreotypes and stereo views related to the history of Portland in the 19th century, to the rise of Pictorialism in Maine with images by Chansonetta Emmons, Alfred Brinkler, and F. Holland Day. In the 20th century, the documentary tradition in modern photography is well represented in the work of international photographers, such as Cartier-Bresson and George Rodger, the American street photographers Leon Levinstein and Garry Winogrand, and celebrity photographers Phillipe Halsman and Barbara Morgan. The work of contemporary Maine photographers, such as Melonie Bennett, Paul Caponigro, and Scott Peterman, rounds out the collection.
The Farnsworth’s interest in photography as an artistic medium can be traced to its very opening in August 1948 when it showed the work of already renowned American photographer Edward Weston. In the sixty years since, it has built a collection of more than 1500 photographs, mostly from the twentieth century, and many by photographers who have worked or are working in Maine. As was the case for the painters from the mid-nineteenth century onward, Maine’s scenic coasts, rivers, streams, and forests provided attractive subjects for their work, as did the everyday activities of farmers, loggers, and fishermen. The museum’s photography collection includes over sixty works by Berenice Abbot, who recorded life in rural and seacoast Maine as well as views of 1930s New York City. Over 140 photographs by Kosti Ruohomaa, most of which appeared in LIFE magazine, portray Maine and all of America during the mid-twentieth century. Other holdings include works by documentary photographer and filmmaker Rudy Burkhardt, LIFE photographer and former Vinalhaven resident Elliot Elisofon, and Maine photographers Paul Caponigro, Elliot Porter, Joyce Tenneson, and George Tice. Recent additions to the collection have included photographs by Bob Brooks, Jeffrey Becton, John Paul Caponigro, William Wegman, Scott Peterman, and Chris Pinchbeck.
In the early 1950s, Miss Adeline and Miss Caroline Wing gave important paintings by William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, and others. In 1956, Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté, benefactors of the College, donated their American Heritage Collection, consisting of 76 works by American folk artists. The next year, the Helen Warren and Willard Howe Cummings Collection of American paintings and watercolors was given.
In 1973, the Jetté Galleries were added to the Bixler Art and Music Center and Norma B. Marin and John Marin Jr. gave 25 works of art by John Marin. Through their continued generosity, the John Marin Collection at the Colby College Museum of Art has become the largest collection of Marin's work in an academic museum in the country. Though the majority of the museum’s works are American, excellent examples of European prints, drawings, and paintings, and special collections such as the Bernat Collection of Asian Ceramics are integral to the museum’s holdings. The collection’s growth is assured in part by the bequest of Jere Abbott, the first Associate Director of the Museum of Modern Art, who established a significant acquisition endowment, enabling the purchase of major works by artists such as Kara Walker, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Richard Serra's monumental 4-5-6, which visitors encounter as they enter through the Paul J. Schupf Courtyard.