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The Yale University Art Gallery has a long history, and much of the story can be told through the buildings it has occupied. The complete tale can be found on Chapel Street, where, except for the original Trumbull Gallery, each of these structures remains.
Renovation and Expansion
Yale University Art Gallery, with view of (left to right) the Louis Kahn building, Old Yale Art Gallery building, and Street Hall. Photo: © Christopher Gardner, 2012
In the fall of 1998, after participating in a comprehensive survey of campus arts facilities, the Yale University Art Gallery was asked by Yale President Richard Levin and Provost Alison Richard to produce a viable plan for enhancing the mission and facilities of this teaching museum. An inventory of the Gallery’s extant physical facilities was created and proved revealing in many respects. Providing ready access to the collection, through increased public exhibition space and classrooms dedicated to object study, appeared as the top priority to achieve our goal of providing meaningful experiences.
In 2004 the Gallery embarked on a major renovation of all three buildings. Completed in 2012 by Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partners), the renovation included an addition to the upper level of the Old Yale Art Gallery that created room for a rooftop sculpture terrace. Eight new classrooms were added to enable educators to teach from the collection, and the new Nolen Center for Art and Education was developed as a major resource for teaching and learning. The renovation and expansion enhanced the Gallery’s role as one of the nation’s most prominent teaching institutions.
Louis Kahn Building (1953)
Yale University Art Gallery, Louis Kahn Building. Photo: © Elizabeth Felicella, 2006
Louis Kahn (1901–1974) designed the renowned modernist building that is adjacent to the two Gothic structures. The Yale University Art Gallery and Design Center was Kahn’s first significant commission and is widely considered his first masterpiece. When it opened in 1953, the building included open spaces for the exhibition of art and studio spaces for use by art and architecture students. Constructed of masonry, concrete, glass, and steel, and presenting a windowless wall along its most public facade, the Kahn building was the first modernist structure at Yale. Kahn’s design has been celebrated not only for its beauty, geometry, and light, but also for its structural and engineering innovations, particularly the tetrahedral ceiling and cylindrical main staircase.
Old Yale Art Gallery Building (1928)
Yale University Art Gallery, Old Yale Art Gallery building. Photo: © Christopher Gardner, 2012
In the fall of 1926, construction began on a new building, the Old Yale Art Gallery (originally called the Gallery of Fine Arts), which would unite the University’s art collections. Designed by well-known architect Egerton Swartwout (1870–1943), B.A. 1891, the Old Yale Art Gallery building borrowed elements from such Florentine structures as the Bargello and the Davanzati Palace. A bridge over High Street was constructed to connect the building to Street Hall. Architectural details throughout the building contain symbolic meaning. For example, the winged female reliefs on the High Street Bridge are personifications of Architecture, Drama, Painting, and Sculpture.
Street Hall (1866)
Yale University Art Gallery, Street Hall. Photo: © Christopher Gardner, 2012
Peter Bonnett White
Street Hall was designed by Peter Bonnett White (1838–1925) and opened in 1866 as the Yale School of the Fine Arts—the first art school on an American college campus. The building was named after Augustus Russell Street, B.A. 1812, a New Haven businessman who donated the funds for the building’s construction on the condition that all residents of the city could enroll in the school, and that classes would be open to both male and female students. Built in the neo-Gothic style that would come to define Yale’s campus by the early 20th century, the building recalls the look of 13th-century Venetian palaces, characterized by its angular outline and polychrome stonework. Street Hall included classrooms and studios on the first floor, and a second floor with new galleries for exhibiting the collection.
Picture Gallery at Yale (1832)
Photograph of the Trumbull Gallery, 1865. Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University
The Yale University Art Gallery was founded in 1832 when history painter and portraitist John Trumbull sold twenty-eight paintings and sixty miniature portraits to the University. Trumbull himself designed a Neoclassical building to exhibit the works. When the Trumbull Gallery opened to the public on October 25, 1832, it became the first college art museum in the United States. While the Trumbull Gallery is no longer standing, today’s Yale University Art Gallery is housed in three historic structures designed by four architects.