Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston

#13 of 31 in Museums in Charleston
Art Museum · Hidden Gem · History Museum
The Gibbes Museum of Art, formerly known as the Gibbes Art Gallery, is an art museum in Charleston, South Carolina. Established as the Carolina Art Association in 1858, the museum moved into a new Beaux Arts building at 135 Meeting Street, in the Charleston Historic District, in 1905. The Gibbes houses a premier collection of over 10,000 works of fine art, principally American works, many with a connection to Charleston or the South.

The benefactor, James Shoolbred Gibbes, donated $100,000 to the Carolina Arts Association upon his death in 1899 for the "erection of a suitable building for the exhibitions of paintings." The city did not receive the money until after the resolution of a will contest filed by nieces and nephews of Gibbes. Their case was heard in the state court of New York during 1900 and 1901. On December 6, 1901, the New York Supreme Court (the state's trial-level court) issued an opinion declaring that the gift to Charleston was valid.

After receiving the money in 1903, the Association hired Frank Pierce Milburn to design the gallery. He planned a Tiffany-style dome, Doric columns, and pediment-capped windows and doors. Milburn completed the drawings of the building in mid-1903, and a drawing of the proposed building was published in the Charleston Evening Post on June 5, 1903. Notices were published seeking contractors' bids for the work starting in August 1903.
In September 1903, H.T. Zacharias was selected as the contractor and received a contract for $73,370 for the building. Zacharias started work on September 28, 1903, removing the remains of the South Carolina Agricultural Hall that had occupied the lot. Although work on the foundations had begun already, a ceremony was held on December 8, 1903, to lay the cornerstone of the building at the northeast corner.
The museum formally opened on April 11, 1905. The collection on display on the opening day included more than 300 pictures, many bronzes, and about 200 miniatures in addition to an "instructive collection" of Japanese prints.

After closing in the early 21st century for an extensive two-year, $13.5 million renovation, the museum reopened to the public on May 28, 2016. In renovating the museum, the development teams used the original blueprints, discovered in the City of Charleston archives in 2008, to return the building to its 1905 Beaux Arts style layout. The first floor features a creative education center that engages the public through classrooms, artist studios, lecture and event spaces, a café, and a museum store. The rear reception area opens to the garden, part of Charleston’s historic Gateway Walk founded by the Garden Club of Charleston. Serving as a creative gathering place for the community, the entire ground floor of the museum is admission-free.

The newly expanded and renovated galleries on the second and third floors provide a 30 percent increase in gallery space, and showcase more than 600 works of art from the permanent collection. State-of-the-art storage facilities feature a closely connected research room to provide ample space for scholars to more easily access and study works from the collection. Observation windows offer visitors a behind-the-scenes view of the work of curators and conservators. The Gibbes’ renowned collection of more than 300 miniature portraits are housed in innovative display cases and open storage cabinetry to allow an up-close view for visitors.

The museum's collections include the work of numerous artists with connections to Charleston; among them are Henrietta Johnston, Mary Roberts, Charles Fraser, William Melton Halsey, Ned I.R. Jennings, and Jeremiah Theus. The museum also has collected photographs by George LaGrange Cook, including photographs taken after the 1886 Charleston earthquake.

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Gibbes Museum of Art reviews

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119 reviews
  • Just arrived in Charleston-staying one block away-wonderful exhibit of contemporary and old art...mostly from Charleston born artists-meandered for a perfect hour-nice gift shop!Worth a visit!  more »
  • Large reception area with a great gift shop made by local artists is a real find, but the highlight was seeing work basically only known by advance art history students or found in published books...  more »
  • Wonderful, cool, beautiful respite from the stifling summer heat in Charleston. Friendly staff greet you, and a convenient cafe offers a place to sit and relax either before or after your visit. The museum has wonderful works of art from modern to classical, sculpture to painting. Some of the more contemporary works referencing Charleston itself were my favorites. Don’t miss the Veiled Lady.
  • I really like the Gibbes Museum Of Art on Meeting Street in Charleston. I have been coming here since I was a little and this museum always seems to inspire imagination and inspiration to create. I like that there are really good exhibits, programs, and events held here that makes it seem like a different experience each time, but still familiar and something that you can remember and return and enjoy again. I like all of the pieces that show the history of Charleston and South Carolina and all of the different stories that they tell of all of the different centuries. This museum is very consistent in the quality it delivers. I look forward to being able to come back here many times in the future.

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