Bob Jones Jr. the founder of M&G, began building the art collection in 1948. After Carl Hamilton, an art-expert and friend, suggested the idea to him, Dr. Bob discussed the possibility of a University Art Gallery with the Executive Committee. He pointed out that a collection of sacred art would be an excellent complement to the schools of Fine Arts and Religion. The Executive Committee agreed, established an acquisition fund, and empowered Dr. Bob to begin collecting art for the university. The criteria for collecting were determined, since every collection must establish its boundaries in order to create its own unique and useful niche: it would be limited to western religious art.
Because Baroque art was unpopular with museums and collectors in the 1950s, Dr. Bob was able to purchase a number of fine paintings his first year of collecting at astonishingly low prices. The Gallery’s original collection comprised twenty-five paintings and included works by Botticelli, Botticini, Ghirlandaio, Tintoretto, Veronese, and Ribera. These paintings were displayed for the first time on Thanksgiving Day 1951 in a two-room gallery adjoining the Bowen Collection of Antiquities.
After the Gallery’s inauguration, the collection rapidly grew. Three years later, in 1954, the collection had grown to 40 works. By 1962, it held 211 paintings, and by 1991, the Gallery had over four hundred works on permanent display. In 1963, the Gallery acquired seven important Benjamin West paintings from West’s large series “The Progress of Revealed Religion.” During this time of development, the Gallery also acquired the James Cole Collection of Ecclesiastical Textiles and Vestments, and began acquiring valuable furniture and the Russian Icon collection.
To accommodate additional artworks, the Gallery moved twice before 1970—first, in 1956 when the Fine Arts Building was constructed, and later, in 1965, when the University’s dining facility was moved. This second expansion of the Gallery into the former Dining Hall was an event of national importance that included a gala event for museum curators, art collectors, and other special guests from around the world.
In addition to collection catalogs published through the decades and museum curators and directors praising the collection, the Gallery gained increased national prominence when NBC Television broadcast a number of the paintings in three Project Twenty specials.
In 1996, the Gallery expanded further by becoming a separate, 501(c)(3), independent non-profit corporation called the Museum & Gallery, Inc. governed by its own board of trustees.
For more than 70 years, paintings from the Collection have been loaned to numbers of national and international exhibitions. In addition to these special loans, M&G continues to offer great art to the public through programming and outreaches.
Adapted from Standing without Apology: The History of Bob Jones University by Daniel L. Turner