Historical places: The history of the Taft Museum of Art

CINCINNATI -- The oldest wooden local building that remains in its original location in Cincinnati is home to one of the most unique museums in the country, the Taft Museum of Art.

The structure was built in 1820 under the ownership of Martin Baum, the city's first millionaire. By 1829 the house was occupied by Nicholas Longworth, a local lawyer and businessman who managed vineyards nearby, lived in the villa until his death in 1863. During that time Longworth, who was a patron of the arts, commissioned murals for the home's foyer from Robert S. Duncanson, one of the most prominent African-American artists of the 19th Century.

After Longworth's death, iron magnate David Sinton bought the home in 1871 where he lived with his daughter, Anna, and her husband, Charles P. Taft—brother of President William Howard Taft. Anna and Charles continued to live in the home after Sinton's death and spent years collecting art which they donated to the City of Cincinnati after they died.

Over the years the Taft Museum of Art has undergone several restorations to preserve the historic home and to continue the Tafts' legacy of providing a center culture and arts for the public. 

Below is an inside look of the historic structure which houses more than 600 pieces of original artwork.

The Baum-Longworth-SInton-Taft Home

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The structure in which the Taft Museum of Art now resides was built in 1820 and is the oldest local wooden structure in situ in Cincinnati. The architecture is of Federalist design in Palladian style—a popular trend of the 1800s.

The Music Room

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This music room was where Anna and Charles Taft did the majority of their entertaining. They even married inside this room in 1873 with their family and friends present. In the warmer months the windows can open as doors which leads to a large porch. This room contains significant pieces of art, including large portraits of Anna and her father David, as well as an original Rembrandt painting.

The Murals

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This mural was one of several painted by artist Robert S. Duncanson and were among his first commissioned pieces of his career. Duncanson later became one of the most prominent African-American artists of the 19th Century. The murals were later covered by several layers of wallpaper which historians believe helped preserve them. They were recovered in 1931 and later fully restored during a major renovation in the 1990s.

Virgin and Child

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This ivory sculpture titled "Virgin and Child" is one of the oldest pieces of the Taft collection dating back to the early 1200s. It was discovered in a French cathedral—the Abbey Church of Saint Denis in Paris — where it was preserved over the centuries. Historians believe the virgin's crown was once gold and she was originally holding an emerald stone, however, the sculpture is one of the best preserved from the time period.

A Look Inside

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The Taft Museum of Art opened its doors in 1932 following the death of Anna Taft in 1931. She and her husband spent years collecting art that they later donated to the city, along with their home. Over the years, the museum has been restored to the decor and furnishings that were popular of the late 1800s. It underwent a major renovation and expansion in the early 2000's, reopening in 2004.

If You Go:
Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $10; Seniors 60 and over $8; Students and Teachers  $8; Youth 12-17 $4; Children 11 and under FREE; Free admission on Sundays
Address: 316 Pike Street Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
Website: http://www.taftmuseum.org/
Phone: (513) 241-0343

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