Spotlight on the Collection

Besides its unbeatable lineup of special exhibitions, the BMA has one of the finest permanent collections in the Southeast. With more than 24,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, videos, and decorative arts, the collection spans more than 4000 years and represents cultures from around the globe. Now, discover your Museum with the Spotlight on the Collection series. Experience the spotlight work in the galleries with an ArtBreak or Slow Art Sunday, like us on Facebook to learn more, or join the conversation below to tell us what you think about these artworks!

Photograph of Lady Helen in about 1914, the year World War I began.

January 2015: Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess d’Abernon, John Singer Sargent, 1904 Portraits are the result of a negotiation between an artist and a sitter, often over considerations such as clothing, props, and location. However, these practical matters can also reveal information about

Buffalo Vector (Yellowstone Border). erritt Johnson, 2009-2010. Oil and alkyd on canvas. Gift of the artist, AFI463.2012.

November 2014: Buffalo Vector

Buffalo Vector (Yellowstone Border), Merritt Johnson, 2009-2010 It is always rewarding to see Museum visitors draw close to a work of art, stop, and look closely. Without fail, this painting compels people to draw near. From afar, Buffalo Vector is discernible as

It's the Real Thing!, 1978/2006. Hank Willis Thomas, 2006. Digital C-print. 27 3/4 x 24 3/4 inches. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Jack Drake Collection of Contemporary Art, AFI104.2011. © Hank Willis Thomas.

September 2014: It’s the Real Thing!

It’s the Real Thing!, 1978/2006, Hank Willis Thomas, 2006 Hank Willis Thomas (born 1976) was raised by a photography historian who taught him to be sensitive to the power of images. Though Thomas went on to earn degrees in fine

Hot Water Urn. Hester Bateman, 1780/1782. Silver with bright-cut engraving, and wood. Museum purchase, 1973.30a-b.

August 2014: Hot Water Urn

Hot Water Urn, Hester Bateman, 1781/1782 Modern collectors and silver enthusiasts have called Hester Bateman (1708-1794) “the queen of English silversmiths.” In 1761, she took over her late husband’s chain-making business and transformed it into an important silver workshop. She retired

Armor (Tōsei Gusoku), Muromachi period (1392-1573), about 1550. Saotome Iyetada (Japanese, active mid-16th century). Lacquer, wood, iron and silk. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Endowed Funds for Asian Art Acquisitions, the Birmingham Museum of Art Volunteer Council, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr., Mrs. Gerda Carmichael, Mr. James D. Sokol, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hanson II, and Dr. and Mrs. James Kamplain, 1997.137.1-.6.

July 2014: Armor

Armor, Saotome Iyetada, about 1550 To a modern audience, suits of samurai armor may seem extravagant or even flamboyant; however, each element served a real purpose. Besides providing protection, high-status samurai warriors needed to be identified by their foot soldiers

Somnus, about 1774. Wedgwood (est. 1759), Staffordshire, England. Stoneware (black basalt). 11 1/2 x 22 1/2 x 14 inches. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc., at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York, 300.2008.

June 2014: Somnus

Somnus, Wedgwood, about 1774 The prototype for this figure is the sculpture by Alessandro Algardi, now in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Wedgwood had access to it through an engraving in Bernard de Montfaucon’s work L’antiquité expliquée, a popular design

Plank Mask (nwantantay). Late 20th century. Yacouba Bonde
Bwa people, Village of Boni, Burkina Faso (born 1963). Wood, pigment. 77 × 14 × 12 inches. Museum purchase with funds provided by Martha Pezrow, 2004.54.

May 2014: Plank Mask

Plank Mask, Yacouba Bonde, late 20th century The Bwa – an ethnic group of about 300,000 people who live in small villages and towns in the West African countries of Burkina Faso and Mali – mark rites of passage such

Ganesha, 10th century. Cambodian, Angkor style. Sandstone. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles B. Crow, Jr. and Mr. and Mrs. William A. Grant, Jr., 1978.73

April 2014: Ganesha

Ganesha, Cambodian, 10th century In Hinduism, the god Ganesha both places and clears away obstacles. He appears frequently in all walks of Hindu life: by the roadside, in household shrines, in temples and shops, and inside covers of books. His

March 2014: Hamilton Folios

March 2014: Hamilton Folios

Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honble William Hamilton, Baron Pierre d’Hancarville, 1766-1767 What is the value in collecting vases? In 1772, Sir William Hamilton sold his collection of  Greek vases and other antiquities to the British

Jizō Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha).
Japanese, Heian period (AD 794-1185), about 1100. Wood. 
36 × 10 × 5 1/2 inches. 
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Estate of Carolyn Quinn, 2005.16a-b.

February 2014: Jizo Bosatsu

Jizō Bosatsu, Japanese, about 1100 One of the most beloved Buddhist deities in Japan, Jizō is a bosatsu (bodhisattva), one of a group of enlightened beings who choose to delay entry into nirvana in order to help others. As the

Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California. Albert Bierstadt, 1865. Oil on canvas. 64 1/2 × 96 1/2 inches. Gift of the Birmingham Public Library, 1991.879.

January 2014: Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California

Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, Albert Bierstadt, 1865 Albert Bierstadt’s adept handling of the brush, sensitivity to composition and color, and ability to capture the atmospheric qualities of light place him among the most effective painters of the natural splendor of

Jar. Vietnam, 16th century. Glazed stoneware with four monster-head bosses below rim, mythological animals with cloud and flame motifs painted in underglaze-blue cobalt-oxide and overglaze enamels, with inset, reticulated, bisque-fired roundels with cranes. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Purchased with funds provided by the Estate of William M. Spencer III, AFI289.2010.

December 2013: Jar

Jar. Vietnamese, 16th century. Glazed stoneware with four monster-head bosses below rim, mythological animals with cloud and flame motifs painted in underglaze-blue cobalt-oxide and overglaze enamels, with inset, reticulated, bisque-fired roundels with cranes. 24 1/4 × 15 inches. Collection of

November 2013: Chilkat Blanket

November 2013: Chilkat Blanket

Chilkat Blanket, Native American, Tlingit people, 19th century A chilkat blanket is worn draped over the shoulders of chiefs or high-ranking men during important ceremonial occasions. The graphic, bold design elements are derived from family crests and are composed of