Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Opens Two New Galleries

Photo: David Mathews

Cabinet-on-stand, about 1805 by James Newton, is a highlight of the new Art of the English Regency Gallery.

BOSTON, MASS. — The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) recently unveiled two new galleries. The Benin Kingdom Gallery is dedicated to the Robert Owen Lehman collection of bronzes and ivories created in the ancient kingdom of Benin, located in present-day Nigeria. The single greatest private holding of objects from Benin (not to be confused with the West African Republic of Bénin, the former Dahomey) the Lehman collection was a gift to the museum in 2012.

The Benin Kingdom Gallery tells the story behind these magnificent works — sculptures, relief plaques, ritual objects and regalia — along with the complex history and traditions of the Edo peoples that inhabit the kingdom. Owned by kings (called Oba), the exquisitely crafted objects were kept in the royal palace in Benin City, the capital of the kingdom, some playing roles in rituals and annual ceremonies that continue to this day.

The Art of the English Regency Gallery showcases a collection of English decorative arts from about 1795 to 1830, donated to the MFA by Dr Horace Wood Brock. Inspired by interior designs of the early Nineteenth Century, the gallery features a tented fabric ceiling — evoking the period’s taste for “antique drapery” — and approximately 50 objects, many of which have never before been on public display.

This collection represents one of the finest groupings of English regency furniture and decorative arts in any American museum, focusing on the era during the reigns of George III and George IV. Complete with numerous examples of elegant furniture, metalwork, period lighting fixtures and a select group of paintings, a focal point in the gallery is a gilt-bronze and jewel-encrusted bust of George IV.

Rare pieces such as ornamental wall plaques and a pair of wall lights designed by Thomas Hope (1769–1831), who helped define the regency style, are also included in this new display, which is on view in the Susan Morse Hilles Gallery. Additional items will include works by George Bullock (1777/78–1818), who specialized in brass and tortoiseshell marquetry; Bullock’s brother, William (1773–1849); and the father-son team of Benjamin Vulliamy (1747–1811) and Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780–1854).

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is at 465 Huntington Avenue. For information, www.mfa.org or 617-267-9300.

Photo: photouser

A highlight in the new Benin Kingdom Gallery is this commemorative head of a defeated neighboring leader, Benin Kingdom.

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