Skip to Main Content

Our History

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of the oldest museums dedicated to the art of our time, and the sixth oldest public art institution in the United States. It was founded in December 1862 as the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy with former President Millard Fillmore among its incorporators. Throughout its evolution to the Albright Art Gallery and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, our museum has been led by a series of talented and dedicated directors whose combined influence has given rise to an extraordinary collection of modern and contemporary art.

History of Our BuildingsHistory of Our Collection | History of Accessible Programming

Our Buildings

At their first meeting in 1862, the founders of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy agreed that “Buffalo is to have a permanent Art Gallery at once.” However, the organization operated in several temporary locations until the turn of the 20th century, when John J. Albright donated funds to build its first permanent home. The museum's Greek revival building was designed by Edward B. Green of Green & Wicks and situated next to Frederic Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park. It was intended to serve as the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Pan-American Exposition in 1901, but construction was delayed. It was dedicated on May 31, 1905, and named the Albright Art Gallery.

More than a half century later, the museum was significantly enhanced through the addition of a new wing designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of New York. Made possible with major donations from Seymour H. Knox, Jr., and his family, and hundreds of other donors, the new addition opened in January 1962, and the museum was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Clifton Hall, the third building on the museum’s campus, was constructed in 1920 as the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences. Although designed by Edward B. Green, the architect’s full design was never realized at this location, but became the Buffalo Museum of Science on Humboldt Parkway. In 1929, the building became the home of the Albright Art School; two wings were added in 1938 and 1945. Ownership of Clifton Hall was transferred to the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1959, and back to the Albright-Knox in 1988. Today, Clifton Hall houses the F. Paul Norton and Frederic P. Norton Family Prints and Drawings Study Center, the AK Innovation Lab, working spaces for the Public Art Initiative, and staff offices.

The Albright-Knox has not added prime exhibition space since Bunshaft’s addition opened in 1962. Since that time, the museum’s collection has grown substantially, with the acquisition of more than 5,000 artworks, while the museum’s campus has remained largely unchanged. In 2001, the Albright-Knox began exploring possibilities for growth. Studies have addressed the chronic space shortage that constrains museum programming and limits access to and visibility of its world-renowned collection. In 2012–13, the architectural firm Snøhetta produced a Master Plan for Growth that proposed several approaches to expansion. In 2016, the museum selected the architectural firm OMA to expand and refurbish its historic campus.

Campus History Timeline

Trace the evolution of the museum’s campus, from groundbreaking for its first permanent home in spring 1900, to our current AK360 Campus Expansion & Renovation project.

View Timeline

Our Collection

January 1863: The Buffalo Fine Arts Academy acquires its first work of art one month after its incorporation when artist Albert Bierstadt donates The Marina Piccola, Capri, 1859, launching a long history of close collaboration between artists and the museum.

1863: 13 donors pledge $500 each to the Picture Fund, establishing the institution’s commitment to collecting.

January 1891: The Print Department of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy is established through generous gifts from Frederick H. James and Willis O. Chapin.

April 1912: The Friends of the Albright Art Gallery Fund is established, with annual member contributions going toward the purchase of works of art. The first artwork purchased with these funds is Charles Webster Hawthorne’s The Family, 1911.

January 1926: Board Vice-President A. Conger Goodyear establishes the Fellows for Life Fund, with annual patron contributions going toward the purchase of modern art. One of the first works purchased through the fund is Pablo Picasso’s La Toilette, 1906.

1926–1964: A. Conger Goodyear gifts nearly 300 works of art—including paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints—to the museum. He also left many important works to the museum in his will.

January 1939: Board President Seymour H. Knox, Jr., and the Knox Family provide the funds to establish The Room of Contemporary Art, a semi-autonomous exhibition space within the museum that showcased some of the most radical art of the time.

1955–1973: Seymour H. Knox, Jr., gifts, and helps Director Gordon M. Smith acquire, nearly 700 works of Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Op art, and more, marking the most intense period of growth for the museum’s collection.

April 1964: Clyfford Still gifts 31 paintings created throughout his career from 1937 to 1963. Learn More

March 1974: David Anderson and his wife gift 44 works of postwar art in memory of Anderson’s mother, Buffalo native and New York gallerist Martha Jackson.

December 1998–January 2000: Frederic P. Norton gifts 587 works on paper, including two major portfolios by Odilon Redon and Georges Rouault. In January 2000, The F. Paul Norton and Frederic P. Norton Family Prints and Drawings Study Center is established.

2003–2008: Natalie and Irving Forman gift 96 paintings, sculpture, and works on paper from their collection of monochrome works of art. They also donated their personal archive, which includes letters of correspondence between the Formans and the artists in their collection. The museum received an additional 109 works from the couple’s daughters and artists in the Formans' honor.

March 2007: The Albright-Knox deaccessions 207 works of art that lay outside of its mission to collect the art of its time, allowing the museum to grow its acquisition endowment from $22 million to $93 million and enabling the ongoing purchase of works in line with its mission.

October 2008: The Albright-Knox receives 50 works of contemporary art from the collection of Dorothy and Herbert Vogel as part of Fifty Works for Fifty States, a national gifts program organized by the National Gallery of Art.

2008, 2011, 2015: Through a three-part series of gifts and purchases, the Albright-Knox acquires 116 works focusing on color, light, and language from the collection of Giuseppe Panza di Biumo.

The Albright-Knox continues to acquire roughly 100 works per year through an active acquisitions program and gifts overseen by its Art Committee.

Collection Timeline

Follow the evolution of modern and contemporary art, from 1862 to the present, through works in the Albright-Knox’s collection.

View Timeline
Back to Top