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When it comes to art museums in New England, the palette is impressively broad. Many of the region’s top colleges boast-worthy collections — including Hanover, Yale, and Harvard — and cities and towns across the region have caches of art that run the gamut from folk and outsider work to modern and impressionist masterpieces. Our favorite places to visit, though, set themselves apart with things like creative programming, family friendliness, and community spirit — in addition to, of course, lots of eye candy. So if you’re looking for an aesthetic fix, check out our roundup of the best art museums in New England, state by state.
More than 100 large-scale wall drawings designed by Connecticut native Sol LeWitt are a must-see extravaganza of pattern and color at Mass MoCA, a 13-acre campus of transformed old brick mill buildings in North Adams that is now the largest museum of contemporary art in the country. Its 200,000-plus square feet of exhibition space (which includes a single gallery as long as a football field) hosts an ever-changing lineup of cutting-edge work by the likes of Laurie Anderson, Robert Rauschenberg, and James Turrell. Mass MoCA also is a go-to for live music by top performers, such as Sylvan Esso, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, and the Decemberists.
Located in Hartford, America’s oldest continuously operating public art museum has been growing its collection since the brushstrokes on Hudson River School landscapes were barely dry. A $33 million renovation completed in 2015 has expanded and revitalized exhibit spaces for holdings that now exceed 50,000 works spanning 5,000 years of human creativity. Be sure to visit the early American furniture and impressionist collections, and stop for a bite at the artful Museum Café, where menu specials are inspired by current exhibitions.
The largest and oldest public art institution in Maine, the Portland Museum of Art offers highlights from three centuries of art in its trio of downtown buildings. There’s a top-flight collection of paintings by American realist and impressionist masters (Rockwell Kent, Andrew Wyeth, and Marsden Hartley, to name a few), a treasure trove of fine and decorative arts, and the largest holding of European art north of Boston. Kids will love exploring the animal-themed installation Modern Menagerie and visiting the Workshop, an exhibit space featuring hands-on, interactive activities.
SEE MORE: Best of Portland, Maine | Yankee Editors’ Choice Awards
Part of the Rhode Island School of Design, this Providence museum features an aggressively diverse collection dedicated to exposing its students to many artistic styles. It houses more than 86,000 objects — furniture, textiles, art, silver, and more — including works by 18th-century Newport furniture makers Goddard and Townsend and 19th-century Rhode Island painters John Noble Barlow and Gilbert Stuart. All the big names are here, too, such as Monet, Manet, Picasso, and Warhol.
At this Manchester institution you’ll find works by Picasso, Monet, O’Keeffe, Wyeth, and more, plus decorative arts and fine examples of New Hampshire’s historic craft tradition. Among the things that set the Currier apart is the fact that it offers tours of the nearby Zimmerman House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in New England that is open to the public. The Currier is also notably connected to what’s happening in the larger community, as seen in things like its recent “Art of Hope” initiative, geared toward parents who have a child battling a substance abuse problem.
Located in the Burlington suburb of Shelburne, Vermont’s largest museum was born from a lifetime of collecting by museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb. Some 150,000 works of art, crafts, and antiques are scattered throughout the campus, which has 39 exhibit buildings and 45 acres of grounds and gardens to explore. Spend time contemplating impressionist gems by Monet, Manet, Degas, and Cassatt (showcased in six period rooms relocated from the Webb family’s 1930s New York apartment), then head next door to the strikingly modern Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education to see the latest special exhibition. When that’s done, there’s still so much to explore, you can’t help but beginning planning for your return visit.
Have you been to some terrific art museums in New England? Tell us about it in the comments!
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.