In 1913, Bessie Vance Brooks donated $100,000 to the City of Memphis for the construction of a museum in honor of her late husband, Samuel Hamilton Brooks. The Brooks Memorial Art Gallery opened to the public in 1916. The Beaux Arts style building, inspired by the Morgan Library in New York City, was designed by James Gamble Rogers and constructed of Georgian marble. The museum was enlarged in 1955 to secure a gift of thirty-two objects from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, which was dependent upon sufficient gallery space to exhibit the artworks. To accommodate the continuing growth of the permanent collection, a further expansion was completed in 1973. In 1983, the institution’s name was changed to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and in 1989 the Brooks separated from the city becoming fully private, although the city retains ownership of the building and the bulk of the collection acquired up to that time. The final, award-winning addition, which replaced the 1955 wing, opened in 1989.
With less than 12% of its budget provided by government funding, the museum relies on the generosity of friends and supporters to meet operating costs and other expenses. There are many ways for individuals, foundations, and corporations to give support. In return, the museum thanks members and sponsors with special privileges, discounts, and naming opportunities.
Through our world class exhibitions and programs, the Brooks has become a center of cultural activity in Memphis. With the help of generous donors and supporters, the collection of nineteen paintings housed in a 8,200 square foot building in 1933 has grown to over 9,000 works of art in a 86,000 square foot building. The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art continues to fulfill the purpose of its founder, Bessie Vance Brooks, as a “repository, conservatory, and museum of art . . . for the enjoyment, inspiration, and instruction of our people.”