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Texas Originals

Artist Marion Koogler McNay

Marion Koogler McNay created the state’s first museum of modern art.



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Marion Koogler McNay stands next to a self-portrait of Paul Gaugin, “Portrait of the Artist with the Idol.” Her home would later became the McNay Art Museum, May 1942. Image credit: The University of Texas at San Antonio: San Antonio Light Photograph Collection (MS 359: L-2953-C)


(February 7, 1883–April 13, 1950)


Once described as the “Gertrude Stein of San Antonio,” Marion Koogler McNay created the first museum of modern art in Texas.

McNay was born in 1883 and raised in Kansas, the only child of parents who made their fortune in oil. She showed an early passion for painting and attended the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1926, she moved to San Antonio and began construction on an ornate Spanish Colonial Revival home. She soon began buying art, amassing a rich collection of European and American pieces. She especially loved the art of the American Southwest.

McNay also invested in artists. In 1942, she offered use of her home to the San Antonio Art Institute, preventing the school’s closure. Her friend, the sculptor Charles Umlauf, said that she “always had the sympathy of the artist at hand because she herself was an artist.”

McNay died in 1950. She bequeathed her expansive residence, its twenty-three acres, and more than 700 works of art to the San Antonio community. She said her goal was to make her museum “a place of beauty with the comforts and warmth of a home.”

Today, the McNay Art Museum is one of the state’s cultural treasures, boasting a remarkable collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century works of art, including works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keefe, and other European and American masters.


This McNay Art Msuem, the first museum of modern art in Texas, was built in the 1920s, and donated to the museum by Mrs. Marion Koogler McNay. It is one of San Antonio’s grandest Spanish colonial Revival homes, 03/17/2005, LC-DIG-pplot-13726-01278 (digital file from LC-HS503-407)


For more about Jessie Marion Koogler McNay

The McNay’s permanent collection now includes Medieval and Renaissance art, Native American pottery, European and American paintings, sculptures and photographs, and one of the finest collections of prints and drawings in the Southwest. The museum is also home to the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts and the Jeanne and Irving Mathews Collection of Art Glass.

McNay took inspiration from the Taos Society of Artists. She spent many summers in New Mexico in the company of Mabel Dodge Luhan and her companions and was briefly married to one of the state’s foremost painters, Victor Higgins. Taos and Santa Fe remain home to a burgeoning art scene that nurtures the distinct Southwestern aesthetic.

More information on the historical and contemporary New Mexico arts can be found on the following websites:


Selected Bibliography

Alexander, Marilyn Bennett. It Happened in San Antonio. Guilford, CT: Two Dot, 2006.

Burkhalter, Lois Wood. Marion Koogler McNay: A Biography, 1883–1950. San Antonio: Marion Koogler McNay Art Institute, 1968.

Burkhalter, Lois Wood. “McNay, Jessie Marion Koogler,” Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed April 09, 2015. 

Porter, Dean. Victor Higgins: An American Master. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1991.

“McNay Will Terms Awaited.” San Antonio Light. April 14, 1950.

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