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Picturing 150 years: Happy anniversary to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts

Art student Agi Reck studied in the post-Impressionist room of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Oct. 25, 1988.Janet Knott/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Feb. 4, 1870: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts was incorporated exactly 150 years ago today. It took another six years of planning and collecting to open the museum’s original location at Copley Square. And from there, the MFA’s ambitions (and collections) really took off. These archival newspaper images capture more than a century of growth, challenge, and change at Boston’s biggest art museum.

Horses and buggies rode past the old Boston Museum of Fine Arts, now the site of the Sheraton Plaza, in 1899. The first MFA location was the top floor of the Boston Athenaeum, and this Copley Square building opened in 1876. Photo loaned by Calvin E. Young of Braintree.Boston Globe Archive
A floor plan for the Museum of Fine Arts, designed in 1907 by Boston architect Guy Lowell. The original Copley Square building, which opened in 1876, closed in May 1909. The Huntington Avenue building, depicted here, opened in November 1909. The floor plan shows the section on main staircase./Boston Globe Archive/Boston Globe Archive
The statue of Lady Sennuwy during excavation at Kerma, Sudan, on Dec. 16, 1913. The Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts expedition excavated thousands of Egyptian and Nubian artifacts over several decades in the early 20th century, including this statue of the wife of a powerful provincial Egyptian governor sculpted in the Middle Kingdom, 1971-1926 B.C. Lady Sennuwy's statue was recently exhibited in the MFA's "Ancient Nubia Now" exhibit.Mohammedani Ibrahim Ibrahim/Museum of Fine Arts
Work was done on the Gallery of Old Masters, now Gallery 207, in 1910 or 1911, soon after the Huntington Avenue MFA opened in 1909.Boston Globe Archive/The Boston Globe
A school group posed at the Huntington Avenue entrance in 1923.Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
People explored the Rose Garden in the Back Bay Fens near the MFA on Sept. 17, 1935. Boston Globe Archive/The Boston Globe
Visitors gathered to view the late president's desk at the traveling John F. Kennedy Library Exhibit on Aug. 19, 1964. People waited in line in the early morning to view Kennedy's possessions and papers less than a year after his assassination.Jack O'Connell/Globe Staff
Hundreds stood in line to view "Age of Rembrandt," a $50 million exhibition featuring a huge collection of Dutch 17th-century paintings on March 4 or 5 of 1967. The exhibit lasted for three months and attracted over 212,000 visitors, including more than 13,000 on March 4 alone. The Globe reported that it broke records for museum attendance.Thomas Landers/Globe Staff
People attended the MFA's centennial anniversary on Feb. 4, 1970. The museum had a public birthday celebration as well as a private viewing of $10 million worth of new acquisitions. Sam Hammat/Globe Staff
Red Sox player Ken Harrelson was framed by stabile sculptures by Alexander Calder at the centennial exhibit on Feb. 5, 1970.Ellis Herwig/Globe Staff
Visitors strolled through the museum's courtyard on June 29, 1971. The courtyard was opened to the public in 1928 and offers an interesting selection of 19th-century sculpture, artfully designed and pruned shrubbery, and an unusual octagonal fountain designed by landscape architect Arthur A. Shurcliff. Ed Jenner/Globe Staff
The Museum of Fine Arts, Feb. 27, 1974.Charles B. Carey/Globe Staff
MFA conservator of painting Elizabeth Jones examined a John Singleton Copley artwork that another artist had painted over on Jan. 6, 1976. Formerly the head conservator of the Fogg Museum, Jones went to Venice many times to help conserve art damaged in the 1966 Venice flood. She used microscopes, X-rays, ultraviolet light, and spectrometers to study paintings and trace the evolution of each artist's work. Jones died in 2013. Charles B. Carey/Globe Staff
Model Mary Lou Harmel waited patiently while sculptor Michael Plette pondered his work at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts on March 9, 1978. The school was founded in 1876.Ulrike Welsch/Globe Staff
MFA employees sang during lunch hour on a free admission day on Dec. 12, 1980.Ulrike Welsch/Globe Staff
Barbara Bush, wife of then-Vice President George Bush, cut the ribbon at the opening of the MFA's $22 million West Wing on July 17, 1981. From left with her are museum director Jan Fontein, MFA president Lawrence Fouraker, Governor Edward J. King, chairman of museum's Board of Overseers Howard W. Johnson, and architect I.M. Pei. Ulrike Welsch/Globe Staff
Bonnie Meaney and Debbie Basse, both of Canton, read a note informing museumgoers that Benjamin West's "King Lear" painting had been removed from the American Painting Gallery for photographic copying in September 1982. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Master swordsmith Sadaichi Gasssan (left) accepted "holy fire," later used to kindle a forge, from Rev. Chikatada Kazannoin in an ancient Shinto purification ceremony marking the reopening of the museum's Asiatic Wing. This ritual, performed daily since the 8th century at Japan's Kasuga Shrine, was staged outside Japan for the first time on Dec. 3, 1982. Joe Dennehy/Globe Staff
Workers stacked large rocks during the construction of a traditional Japanese garden outside the MFA's West Wing on July 18, 1987. The garden included 178 rocks when finished. Dedicated in October 1988, Tenshin-en, or the “Garden of the Heart of Heaven,” is currently open during the spring and summer seasons. Over 70 species of American and Japanese plants live in the garden. Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Security guard Albert Bailey watched during his break as Marisa McCoy of the Beth Shalom Garden Club in Needham worked on her floral interpretation of Gilbert Stuart's unfinished portraits of George and Martha Washington on April 29, 1996. The museum celebrates the return of spring with the annual Art in Bloom event.Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Over 600 guests attended Chanel's first US showing of its fall '97 clothing line on June 19, 1997, part of a gala fund-raiser at the MFA and a party celebrating the opening of Chanel's new boutique at 5 Newbury St. Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff
Irene Konefal, an associate conservator of paintings, explained the process of removing varnish from this Monet ("Water Lilies II," 1907). George Shackelford, MFA curator of European paintings (center) and Hughes Pernet, Ministre Conseiller of France, listened on July 22, 1998. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Perched near the ceiling on scaffolding, Chad Gifford, CEO of Bank of Boston, and conservator Lydia Vagts examined the John Singer Sargent murals the museum was restoring in preparation for a Sargent show on Nov. 2, 1998.Pam Berry/Globe Staff
From left: US Ambassador to Japan Thomas S. Foley and MFA officials Robert Henderson and Malcolm Rogers participated in the ritual smashing of a sake barrel at the grand opening of the MFA's satellite museum in Nagoya, Japan, on Apr. 16, 1999. The MFA, aided by $50 million from Nagoya businesses, became the first Western museum with an Asian outpost. After years with low visitor numbers and increasing debt, the Foundation for the Arts, Nagoya, split with the MFA, and the Japanese museum closed in 2018.Kasho Kumagai/for The Boston Globe
Boston Ballet principal dancer Adriana Suarez and MFA curator Ann Coleman toured the new exibit "Crowning Glories: Two Centuries of Tiaras" on May 15, 2000. They looked at the Londonderry Tiara, England, 1854, containing 1,142 diamonds.Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Museumgoers got an up-close look at Vincent van Gogh's "Self-Portrait," 1889, at the traveling exhibit "Van Gogh: Face to Face" on July 2, 2000.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff
Jonathan Borofsky installed one of his Flying Figures, "I Dreamed I Could Fly," at the MFA on Oct. 11, 2000. Originally scheduled to remain at the MFA for a few months, the installation is now a permanent fixture in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art.Bill Greene/Globe Staff
Dave Willcutt of the MFA set up "Under the Table," 1994, by artist Robert Therrien on July 9. 2002. The table top was about 19 feet and weighed about 1,500 pounds. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Designer Keith Crippen set up the International Loan Exhibition of Paul Gauguin, "Gauguin Tahiti," at the MFA on Feb. 17, 2004. Bill Brett for The Boston Globe/
A 1938 Bugatti Type 67 SC Atlantic Coupe was gingerly hoisted to a second-floor MFA gallery for "Speed, Style and Beauty: Cars from the Ralph Lauren Collection" on Feb. 11, 2005. The nontraditional exhibition offered a glimpse of some of the world's rarest and priciest racing machines, not to mention an opportunity to draw more men to the MFA. At the time, the museum said women visitors outnumbered men 64 to 36 percent.George Rizer/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl
Phyllis Robbins, MFA Gallery Instructor, held the hand of Barbara Ceconi, a blind visitor from Brookline, during a tour on Aug. 20, 2004. Barbara's husband, Kurt Kuss, who is also blind, touched the marble sculpture "Sappho," 1863, by William Wetmore Story. The MFA offers free tours by appointment for the visually impaired. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Kathy Tabor-McEwan, director of clinical operations at Mass General Hospital, Kathy Ouellette, CT manager, and Pamela Hatchfield, head of objects conservation at the MFA, aligned a 4,000-year-old mummy for a series of tests meant to determine gender, tissue structure, and facial reconstruction on June 13, 2005. The mummified head likely belonged to Djehutynakht, a prominent Egyptian dignitary whose tomb overlooked the Nile Valley. In 2018, additional tests were done to find DNA within the mummy's molars.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe - The Boston Gl
Antonio Lopez Garcia's baby heads, titled "Day and Night," each weighing 1.6 tons and standing about 8 feet tall, were placed by the Huntington Avenue entrance on Apr. 1, 2008. They now sit at the Fenway entrance.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
Maegan Crowley, Abigail Palmer, and Haley Gyorda (from left) wore Egyptian masks on Oct. 30, 2009, while they toured "The Secrets of Tomb 10A: Egypt 2000 BC" at the Museum of Fine Arts. The masks were a gift in the spirit of Halloween from museum director Malcolm Rogers and Bob Gallery, Massachusetts president of Bank of America.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
The MFA held a Concerts in the Courtyard performance, featuring Jose Conde y Ola Fresca, on July 7, 2010, in the Calderwood Courtyard.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
The MFA opened its new wing for the Art of the Americas and the Shapiro Family Courtyard in 2010. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
MFA employees unrolled "The Passage of the Delaware," 1819, by Thomas Sully, the first painting installed in the Art of the Americas Wing, on Feb. 18, 2010. This was the first time in more than 100 years that the frame and the painting were together.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
Museum of Fine Arts patrons gathered around Dale Chihuly's "Lime Green Icicle Tower," 2011, in the Shapiro Family Courtyard on July 25, 2011. The museum solicited donations from over 1,000 individuals to acquire the piece for its collection. Erik Jacobs for The Boston Globe
MFA employees Luke Cannon (left) and Bill Wetterhahn hung Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Dance in the City" between two other Renoirs -- "Dance at Bougival" (left) and "Dance in the Country" -- on May 17, 2012. The MFA's "Dance at Bougival" was on view with two other Renoir paintings on loan from the Muse d'Orsay in Paris. This was the first time in 25 years that the three paintings were displayed together at the museum.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
The Art of the Americas wing holds collections from North, South, and Central America. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
MFA employees installed John Singer Sargent's "The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" next to the two Japanese vases depicted in the painting in the new Art of the Americas wing on July 30, 2010. The vases were donated to the museum by the heirs of the Boit family.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
MFA employees Susanne Gänsicke, conservator, and Jean-Louis Lachevre, conservation engineer, attached replacement nose and lips to the 13-foot Roman marble statue of the goddess Juno on Feb. 27, 2013. The body, sculpted 1st BC or 1st AD, is that of a goddess or muse, and the head, added in the 1st or 2nd AD, was identified as Juno by her diadem and facial features. The nose and lips were modeled in clay and molded with pink silicone rubber.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Betsy Howerton, MFA gallery guide, spoke to a group about MFA's new acquisition, "Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia)," 1928, by Frida Kahlo on Jan. 27, 2016. The double portrait was the first Kahlo to enter any New England museum collection. The subjects were maids in Kahlo's mother's house. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L Ryan, Globe Staff
Actor Steve Martin watched paintings by Lawren Harris go into place at the Museum of Fine Arts on March 8, 2016. Martin curated an exhibit of paintings by Harris (1885-1970), a Canadian painter of landscapes considered to be the country's greatest 20th-century modern painter. Preparations for the “The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris” required Martin to travel to far-flung museums all over Canada.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff
Fourteenth- and 15th-century European works by Tintoretto (top) and (from left) Jusepe de Ribera, Titian, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, El Greco, and Francisco de Zurbarán were displayed in Gallery 250 in the MFA on Oct. 10, 2017.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L Ryan, Globe Staff
The Museum of Fine Arts trained Riley, a Weimaraner, posing here on Jan. 9, 2017, at 12 weeks old, to detect various scents for both security and conservation. That included dangerous objects, moths, and other pests that could damage the collections.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Maria Cabral (center), originally from Cape Verde, waved her US flag alongside Joseph Elalam (right), originally from Lebanon, after becoming a US citizen during the first US naturalization ceremony ever held at the MFA on May 14, 2018. About 200 immigrants were naturalized. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe
Akira Oni looked at outfits on display at the MFA's Gender Bending Fashion exhibit on March 15, 2019. The show traced how fashion has been used to both celebrate and disrupt gender roles across class, race, and orientation. Erin Clark for The Boston Globe
A group of educators and community roundtable participants toured the MFA's updated school group entrance on Oct. 2, 2019. The museum overhauled its protocol for school groups after students encountered racism at the museum. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe