The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is located on the former estate of Julian de Cordova (1851-1945). The self-educated son of a Jamaican merchant, Julian de Cordova became a successful tea broker, wholesale merchant, investor, and president of a glass company in Somerville, Massachusetts. Although he married into the locally prominent Dana family of Boston, de Cordova achieved prosperity without the advantages of inheritance or social position.
Travel and art were his passions, and de Cordova once wrote that he collected "everything that took [his] fancy in every country of the world." In an era before airplanes and automobiles, Julian and his wife, Elizabeth, were hardy tourists who traversed the globe several times. Inspired by his trips to Spain and his own Spanish heritage, Julian remodeled his summer home in Lincoln, Massachusetts in 1910 to resemble a European castle. His exposure to visual arts abroad also influenced his management of the Union Glass Company, which under his stewardship produced ornamental glass to rival the quality of his European competitors.
For de Cordova, the visual arts served as a medium for self-improvement and enlightenment. In his later years, he opened the doors of his estate to share the wonders he had collected during seven decades of world travel. De Cordova envisioned a place where art would continue to educate and excite beyond his lifetime. To meet that end, he gave his property to the town of Lincoln in 1930 with the stipulation that his estate would become a public museum of art following his death.
De Cordova's will established a committee of incorporation, whose duties included formulating the policy, objectives, and supervision of the new museum with the guidance of professionals in the field, such as the Director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA). Independent appraisers determined that de Cordova's collections were not of substantial interest or value, so the original Trustees determined to honor his intent by creating a museum of regional contemporary art.
The Trustees reached this innovative decision after they noticed the near absence of modern art exhibitions in the Boston area and the lack of venues for works by regional contemporary artists. When it officially opened in 1950, the DeCordova Museum became the only museum to focus its exhibitions and collecting activities on living New England artists, while adopting a broad educational program in the visual arts. Architect John Quincy Adams designed the extensive renovations that transformed the de Cordova mansion into a public museum.
DeCordova's Mission Statement
The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is a public museum of art established to educate as broad and diverse a public as possible about modern and contemporary American art. The Museum accomplishes this mission by focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the art of the New England region.
DeCordova educates through exhibitions, collections, classes, outreach programs, and a full schedule of activities designed to enhance our public’s engagement with art and artists.
DeCordova is a member-supported, 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts , which receives funding support from federal and state cultural agencies, private and corporate foundations, and individuals.
DeCordova's Early Years
The Trustees picked MFA School of Art graduate Frederick P. Walkey to lead the institution as its founding director, and he aggressively organized an exhibition schedule and arts instruction program with a clear educational mandate. The Museum established a reputation for ground-breaking exhibitions that introduced New England audiences to important trends within contemporary art both regionally and nationally, including Pop Art and Boston's post-war expressionist movement. DeCordova has been accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1974
As visitors roamed the galleries below, the Museum's third floor buzzed with studio art classes. The School attracted hundreds of students, eventually overwhelming the limited space within the Museum. In 1966, DeCordova constructed a complex of four studio buildings to accommodate an expanded educational program and to meet the equipment and instructional needs of a professional studio art curriculum. In the early 1980s, the Museum consolidated and renovated two existing buildings to form administrative offices for the Museum School and its outreach programs.