High Museum of Art
art museum in Atlanta, Georgia, USA



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High Museum of Art
art museum in Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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1280 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, Georgia
United States

More about High Museum of Art

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Given Atlanta’s history, it’s not surprising that an art museum wasn’t high on the list of priorities for the city, seeing as there was a bit of rebuilding to do there in the latter part of the 19th century.

However, life goes on, and interest in the arts and culture began to grow once again in the aftermath of the Civil War. Theater, literary, and music events were put on by local civic organizations; there was even a “lively” visit by Oscar Wilde in 1882. It was during these times that the seeds that would eventually grow into the High Museum of Art were planted. 

As is the case for many other museums, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta had humble beginnings. The museum began as the Atlanta Art Association in 1905. The Association was founded by a group of women, with the eventual goal of establishing a real art museum in Atlanta, but at the time they had no building, little money, and no art! It would not be until 1926 when Harriet "Hattie" Harwell Wilson High made a gift to the city of her mansion on Peachtree Street that this new art museum would find a home.

The donation of the eighteen-room house was made as a memorial to her deceased husband, James Madison High (hence the name of the museum), who founded one of the “leading mercantile establishments” in Atlanta. Since the Association was founded, the group had been slowly but surely putting together a collection of art, some purchased and some donated. They had also been busy generating interest by holding an annual exhibition for several years.

By 1931, the museum had become pretty popular with Atlantans; there were exhibitions featuring American as well as European art, and special events on Sundays, including lectures on a variety of subjects and musical programs. The first significant donation of art came in 1949 from J.J. Haverty, founder of the Haverty Furniture Company in Atlanta, whose collection was comprised of works by Childe Hassam, Henry Ossawa Tanner, William Merritt Chase, and others. 

In 1962, tragedy struck the museum - not directly, but it still hit very close to home. The Atlanta Art Association had organized a trip to Europe to visit some of the leading museums there, and on their flight home, the Air France 707 crashed during an aborted takeoff from Orly Field, just outside of Paris, killing nearly everyone onboard; only two flight attendants would survive. 106 of the 122 passengers onboard were from Atlanta and most, if not all, had ties to the arts scene in the city, so in addition the terrible loss of life, this was a blow to the museum itself.

The crash led to one piece of art being created, one lent, and one donated. Andy Warhol, keeping it classy, painted 129 Die in Jet! that same year. This was his first “disaster painting,” modeled on the cover of the New York Mirror of June 4, 1962, published the day following the crash. Since the patrons on the plane had visited the Louvre on their trip and seen Whistler's Mother, the storied French museum sent it to Atlanta to be exhibited. In 1968, the government of France presented the Auguste Rodin sculpture The Shade to the museum as a memorial to the crash victims. Although the museum lost some of its most dedicated supporters, the city came together and raised $13 million in four years to build the Memorial Arts Center (now the Woodruff Arts Center), which today includes the High Museum, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Alliance Theatre.

By the late 1970s, the High had long since outgrown its original home and a modern museum building was designed by architect Richard Meier, expanding the space to 135,000 square feet, just a wee bit larger than their previous place. The High Museum and the Atlanta Art Association helped fuel what is now a thriving arts and cultural scene in Atlanta and the surrounding environs.




  1. "A MUSEUM OF ART FOR ATLANTA, GA." The American Magazine of Art 17, no. 7 (1926): 376.
  2. “Atlanta Art Association Film.” Atlanta History Center Album.
  3. Bellavance, Leslie. 2003. “Museumania.” Art Papers 27 (2): 22–27.
  4. Garrett, Franklin M. Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, 1880s-1930s. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011.
  5. Khouri, Michelle. “The Tragedy & Triumph Behind Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center.” Wheretraveler, November 28, 2020.
  6. Larson, Judy L., Donelson Hoopes, and Phyllis Peet. American Paintings at the High Museum of Art. New York: Judson Hills Press, 1994.
  7. "THE HIGH MUSEUM OF ART." The American Magazine of Art 22, no. 5 (1931): 396.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about High Museum of Art

The High Museum of Art (colloquially the High) is an art museum in Atlanta, Georgia in the Southeastern United States. Located on Peachtree Street in Midtown, the city's arts district, the High is a division of the Woodruff Arts Center.

In 2010 it had 509,000 visitors, 95th among world art museums.


The museum was founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association. In 1926, the High family, for whom the museum is named, donated their family home on Peachtree Street to house the collection following a series of exhibitions involving the Grand Central Art Galleries organized by Atlanta collector J. J. Haverty. Many pieces from the Haverty collection are now on permanent display in the High. A separate building for the museum was built adjacent to the family home in 1955.

On June 3, 1962, 106 Atlanta arts patrons died in an airplane crash at Orly Airport in Paris, France, while on a museum-sponsored trip. Including crew and other passengers, 130 people were killed in what was, at the time, the worst single plane aviation disaster in history. Members of Atlanta's prominent families were lost including members of the Berry family who founded Berry College. During their visit to Paris, the Atlanta arts patrons had seen Whistler's Mother at the Louvre. In the fall of 1962, the Louvre, as a gesture of good will to the people of Atlanta, sent Whistler's Mother to Atlanta to be exhibited at the Atlanta Art Association museum on Peachtree Street.

To honor those killed in the 1962 crash, the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center was built for the High. The French government donated a Rodin sculpture The Shade to the High in memory of the victims of the crash.

In 1983, a 135,000-square-foot (12,500 m2) building designed by Richard Meier opened to house the High Museum of Art. Meier won the 1984 Pritzker Prize after completing the building. The Meier building was funded by a $7.9 million challenge grant from former Coca-Cola president Robert W. Woodruff matched by $20 million raised by the museum. Meier's highly sculptural building has been criticized as having more beauty than brains. For example, constructed with white concrete, the lobby, a giant atrium in the middle of the building's cutaway cube, has almost no exhibition space, and columns throughout the interior restrict the way curators can display large works of modern art. Also with the atrium being just one of four quadrants, it's viewed as a luxuriously structured, but vacant pathway leading to the other exhibits, which is quite a shame when considering how radiant and light-filled the room is. At 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2), the Meier building has room to display only about three percent of the museum's permanent collection. Although the building officially contains 135,000 square feet, only about 52,000 square feet (4,800 m2) is gallery space.

The Meier building, now the Stent Family Wing, was termed Director Gudmund Vigtel's "crowning achievement" by his successor Michael Shapiro. During Vigtel's tenure 1963-1991, the size of the museum's permanent collection tripled, endowment and trust funds of more than $15 million were established, the operating budget increased from $60,000 to $9 million and the staff expanded from four to 150.

In 2005, Renzo Piano designed three new buildings which more than doubled the museum's size to 312,000 square feet (29,000 m2), at a cost of $124 million. The Piano buildings were designed as part of an overall upgrade of the entire Woodruff Arts Center complex. All three new buildings erected as part of the expansion of the High are clad in panels of aluminum to align with Meier's original choice of a white enamel façade. Piano's design of the new Wieland Pavilion and Anne Cox Chambers Wing features a special roof system of 1,000 light scoops that capture northern light and filter it into the skyway galleries.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about High Museum of Art.