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This relief plaque depicting a battle scene is one of the pieces donated to the Museum of Fine Arts by New York collector Robert Owen Lehman.

The Museum of Fine Arts has been given 34 rare West African pieces from a group of works known as the Benin bronzes, marking a dramatic upgrade in a long-neglected area of the museum’s collection.

The 28 bronzes and 6 ivories come from New York collector Robert Owen Lehman, son of the famous American banker, and will go on display late in 2013 in a newly created gallery.

“This is the transformation of our collection,” MFA director Malcolm Rogers said Thursday. “It’s some of the greatest art ever produced in Africa, and it has been poorly represented in our collection. It’s going to really open visitors’ eyes to an extraordinary world.”

The museum did not start collecting African art until 1991 and, before this gift, had only one Benin piece. Though the Benin works are very difficult to acquire today, hundreds of them are held by a few major museums, including the British Museum, Ethnological Museum in Berlin, and Field Museum in Chicago.

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Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe

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Nothing can really compare to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s “El Jaleo’’ or the Museum of Fine Arts’ “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,’’ but when I’m asked to name my favorite picture by John Singer Sargent, I often nominate this one.

It’s a great picture – but, I freely admit, it’s also personal. My wife, a violinist, ran off to Paris to join the circus, and it so happened she chose the Cirque d’Hiver. She was kind enough to bring me with her, and so I spent a lot of time in the steeply sweeping, circular interior depicted here by Sargent.

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Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe


An aerial shot of the Museum of Fine Arts shows the new wing, with its distinctive glass courtyard roof (right), on the eastern side of the museum. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff)

Museum building projects always spark a visitor boom, as people want to see the new spaces. But if attendance drop-off is too dramatic when the excitement wears off, a museum can fall into crisis. MFA leaders project they will double their usual attendance after the wing’s November opening. (Typical attendance is 60,000 to 80,000 a month in the winter, says Kimberly French, the museum’s deputy director of communications.) How will the MFA sustain the crowds? French believes an April show featuring work by glass artist Dale Chihuly should do for the MFA what Shepard Fairey did for the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2009: draw visitors even after the thrill of the opening has worn off.

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Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe


The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with the “Appeal to the Great Spirit” statue at the Huntington entrance. (Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times)

You love art. When and where did that start? In school? At home? In books? For me it began when I was a kid in the 1950s and ’60s, before and during my teens. The primal scene was divided between two Boston museums where I spent a lot of time. I visited both again last week to check memory against reality and got a surprise: sometimes they match up.

I come from an art-loving family. Midwinter Saturdays, slushy and short in New England, were museum days. Our mainstays were the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, close to each other on the Fenway, a bayou-like tract of Olmsted parkland. There were early hopes that the area would attract rich residents, become chic, but it didn’t and the museums were a bit marooned there.

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Holland Cotter
New York Times

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