The Kimbell Art Foundation, which owns and operates the Museum, was established in 1936 by Kay and Velma Kimbell together with Kay’s sister and her husband, Dr. and Mrs. Coleman Carter, shortly after Mr. and Mrs. Kimbell purchased their first paintings. The Foundation continued to collect artworks, mostly portraits of the British and French schools of the 18th and 19th centuries, and when Mr. Kimbell died, in 1964, he left his collection and entire personal fortune to the Foundation.
By 1966, the Foundation’s board of directors had appointed the Museum’s first director and set the policy of forming “collections of the highest aesthetic quality, derived from any and all periods in man’s history, and in any medium or style.” Two aspects of that plan would have the greatest impact on changing the Kimbell collection: an expansion of vision to encompass world history and a new focus on a small number of key objects. The collection now consists of about 350 works that not only epitomize their periods and movements but also touch individual high points of aesthetic beauty and historical importance. Ranging in period from antiquity to the 20th century, it includes European masterpieces by artists such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Monet, Picasso, and Matisse; important collections of Egyptian and classical antiquities; and Asian, Precolumbian, and African art.
The Museum’s 1972 building, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, is widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the modern era. A second building, designed by world-renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, opened in 2013 and now provides space for special exhibitions, dedicated classrooms and a 298-seat auditorium with excellent acoustics for music.