Exterior view of the three buildings that contain the museum's collection.

Architecture

Picture Gallery at Yale (1832)

John Trumbull

The Yale University Art Gallery was founded in 1832 when history painter and portraitist John Trumbull sold 28 paintings and 60 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.

Photograph of the Trumbull Gallery, 1865. Manuscripts and Archives, Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University

Street Hall (1866)

Peter Bonnett Wight

Street Hall was designed by Peter Bonnett Wight (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 (1791–1866, 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.

Yale University Art Gallery, Street Hall. Photo: © Christopher Gardner, 2012

Old Yale Art Gallery Building (1928)

Egerton Swartwout

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.

Yale University Art Gallery, Old Yale Art Gallery building. Photo: © Christopher Gardner, 2012

Louis Kahn Building (1953)

Louis Kahn

Louis Kahn (1901–1974) designed the renowned modernist building that is adjacent to the two neo-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.

Yale University Art Gallery, Louis Kahn Building. Photo: © Elizabeth Felicella, 2006

Renovation and Expansion (2004–12)

Renovated Gallery

In 2004 the Gallery embarked on a major renovation of all three of its 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 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.

Exterior view of the three buildings that contain the museum's collection.

Exterior view of the Yale University Art Gallery. Left to right: the Louis Kahn building, the Old Yale Art Gallery building, Street Hall. © Christopher Gardner, 2012

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