Biographical / Historical
The Speed Art Museum, originally known as the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum, is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum. Designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis, the museum opened its doors on January 15, 1927 with an exhibition sponsored by the Louisville Art Association. Nearly 2,000 visitors were on hand to view works by more than 100 American and European painters. The museum was incorporated as a privately endowed institution, and its board of governors was established in 1927. Mrs. Speed served as the first president and director of the museum.
In 1941, Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite gave the museum his collection of 15th- and 16th-century French and Italian Decorative Arts tapestries and furniture. And, in 1942 Hattie Bishop Speed died and Catherine Grey, a member of the museum’s first Board of Governors and a friend of Mrs. Speed, became the museum’s acting director.
In 1945, Dr. Preston Satterwhite donated the English Renaissance room, which was moved in its entirety from Devonshire, England. This necessitated an expansion of the museum, which was provided for in Dr. Satterwhite’s will. The first of three additions to the original building, the expansion was completed in 1954 and bears his name. In the same year, Dr. Frederick Weygold donated a valuable collection of North American Indian artifacts to the museum.
Paul S. Harris becomes the museum’s first professional director in 1946. During his tenure, acquisitions to the collection are made mostly in the areas of decorative arts and furniture.
Franklin Page, formerly the curator of contemporary art at the Detroit Institute of Arts, became the Speed’s director in 1962. During Mr. Page’s tenure, the museum collection expanded, and the North and South Additions are built.
In 1977, the Speed celebrated its 50th anniversary with the acquisition of Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Woman. Mr. Page and the Board of Governors lead the campaign to raise the $1.5 million necessary to purchase the work, one of the museum’s most significant acquisitions at the time.
An additional wing, designed by Robert Geddes of Princeton, New Jersey, opened in 1983.
In 1986, Peter Morrin, formerly the curator of 20th-century art at the High Museum in Atlanta, became director. Mr. Morrin continued the enrichment of the collection and initiated an outreach program to involve local communities.
In 1996, the museum closed for a significant renovation and received a bequest of more than $50 million from Alice Speed Stoll, granddaughter of James Breckinridge Speed. The bequest marked one of the largest given to any art museum and brought the Speed’s endowment to among the top 25 in the United States. Mrs. Stoll’s bequest secured the museum’s future and allowed for several significant acquisitions including Jacob van Ruisdael’s Landscape with a Half Timbered House and a Blasted Tree (1653) and Paul Cezanne’s Two Apples on a Table (c 1895-1900).
In 1997, The Speed reopens and excites the region with traveling exhibitions and new acquisitions. It also receives a bequest from the estate of longtime Board of Governors member General Dillman A. Rash, who leaves the museum works by Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Maurice Utrillo.
Dr. Charles L. Venable, formerly the Deputy Director for Collections and Programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art, is named Director of the Speed Art Museum in 2005. And in 2012 the museum closed its doors to start a $50-million expansion and renovation.
The Speed welcomed new Director Ghislain d’Humières, in 2013 who assumes his role after serving as Director and Chief Curator of the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Art Museum. During construction, Local Speed opened in Louisville’s NuLu district to serve as the Speed’s satellite space for programming and exhibitions during the museum’s three-year expansion.
An additional gift allowed the museum to complete its entire master plan during the three-year expansion. This plan included a South Building that houses a state-of-the-art cinema capable of screening 16mm, 35mm and digital films. The Speed Art Museum reopened to the public on March 12, 2016.
Stephen Reily, longtime civic and business leader and supporter of the Museum became interim Director on April, 2017 and then named Director in January, 2018 by the Board of Trustees.