Tucked away in the southeast corner of downtown Cincinnati lies an urban oasis. The Lytle Park Historical District resides at the end of Fourth Street, a refuge of greenery and floral displays amid all the concrete and asphalt of downtown Cincinnati's Central Business District. Lytle Park sits in the shadow of Cincinnati's tallest building, Great American Tower. At the west end of Lytle Park stands an 11-foot bronze statue of a beardless Abraham Lincoln, and at the east end of Lytle Park is a villa that is considered to be one of the finest examples of Early Federal architecture in the Palladian style anywhere in the country. And inside this Federal villa is one of the most outstanding small art museums in the nation.
Art Lover's Paradise
Since 1932, Taft Museum of Art has been a public museum of unique gem-like quality. Its Rembrandts and Turners, Italian majolica painted pottery, Chinese porcelains, 16th-century crystals, and jewelry are a glimpse into a bygone era. All these treasures rest inside a homelike setting of manageable size complete with a formal garden. It's an art lover's paradise in our urban jungle.
The villa, known as the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House, is a National Historic Landmark built in the 1820s for Martin Baum, Cincinnati's first millionaire. Nicholas Longworth was the villa's next owner. He purchased the mansion in 1829 for the grand total of $29,000. Longworth extensively redecorated the interiors and added landscape murals by African American painter Robert S. Duncanson in the foyer. The eight landscapes begin in the foyer and proceed down the front and cross halls, becoming increasingly picturesque as they move deeper into the house. These murals are now considered to be the greatest American murals dating from before the Civil War.
Following Longworth, David Sinton and his daughter Anna resided at the villa. Anna Sinton married Charles Phelps Taft, half brother of President William Howard Taft. The Tafts lived in the house from 1873 to 1929, and they were avid art collectors. In 1927, the Tafts donated their home and all of its 690 artworks to the people of Cincinnati: "We desire to devote our collection of pictures, porcelains, and other works of art to the people of Cincinnati in such a manner that they may be readily available for all."
The Taft Museum of Art opened its doors to the public on November 29, 1932. Today, it's on the National Registry of Historical Places. Of the permanent collection, 98.5 percent is on display daily. The remainder is too fragile, poor quality or a forgery.
Inside you'll find works by European old masters like Rembrandt, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Jean-François Millet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. You'll also find 19th-century American paintings by James Whistler, Frank Duveneck, John Singer Sargent and the aforementioned murals of Robert Duncanson in the Taft's extensive collection. The galleries in the historic house also include Chinese porcelains, European decorative arts, Limoges enamels, sculptures, and early-19th-century New York furniture. There aren't any Impressionist paintings as the art movement was just coming to prominence during the 1870s and 1880s, and the Tafts preferred more classical inspired works.
Following major renovations and expansion, Taft Museum of Art reopened in May of 2004. The renovations included a 70-space parking garage, a gallery for special exhibitions, a performance/lecture facility, a larger museum gift shop with all sorts of unique items, and a café with a wonderful selection of teas. Also renovated was the garden. It has a very distinct courtyard feel giving visitors the sense of a lush garden in the heart of the city.
The Taft Museum of Art is a lovely place to spend the afternoon to see some beautiful works of art and get a glimpse into the opulence of a bygone era. Even stopping in for lunch or tea on the cafe's patio is like stepping back in time. Taft Museum of Art is a gem in the heart of Cincinnati and should not be missed by art lovers or history buffs alike. It's truly timeless.