Museum of Fine Arts. Count on staying a while if you have any hope of seeing what's here. Eclecticism and thoroughness, often an incompatible pair, have coexisted agreeably at the MFA since its earliest days. From Renaissance and baroque masters to impressionist marvels, African masks and sublime samples of Native American pottery to contemporary crafts, the collections are happily shorn of both cultural snobbery and shortsighted trendiness.
The MFA's collection of approximately 450,000 objects was built from a core of paintings and sculpture from the Boston Athenaeum, historical portraits from the city of Boston, and donations by area universities. The MFA has more than 70 works by John Singleton Copley; major paintings by Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Fitz Henry Lane, and Edward Hopper; and a wealth of American works ranging from native New England folk art and colonial portraiture to New York abstract expressionism of the 1950s and 1960s. Also of particular note are the John Singer Sargent murals adorning the Rotunda. They were unveiled at the museum in 1921 and make for a dazzling first impression on visitors coming through the Huntington Avenue entrance.
American decorative arts are also liberally represented, particularly those of New England in the years before the Civil War. Native son Paul Revere, much more than a sounder of alarms, is amply represented as well, with superb silver teapots, sauceboats, and other tableware.
More than thirty galleries contain the MFA's European painting and sculpture collection, dating from the 11th century to the 20th. Standouts include Donatello's marble relief Madonna of the Clouds and J. M. W. Turner's powerful work Slave Ship. Contemporary art has a dynamic home in the MFA's dramatic I. M. Pei–designed building.
The list goes on: You’ll find one of the world's most extensive collections of Asian art under one roof. With 37 Monets, it has the largest collection of his work outside France. Its collection of antique musical instruments is among the finest in the world.
The year-round cocktail party "MFA First Fridays," from 6 to 9:30—held monthly—has become quite the social event. Stop by to admire the art in a festive atmosphere.
Be aware that the museum will require you to check any bag larger than 11 inches by 15 inches, even if it's your purse. So save that oversize bag for another day and bring along only the essentials. 465 Huntington Ave., The Fenway, Boston, MA, 02115. 617/267–9300. www.mfa.org. $25 (good for two days in a 10-day period). Sat.–Tues. 10–4:45, Wed.–Fri. 10–9:45. 1-hr tours daily; call for scheduled times. Museum.