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"With Éclat": The Boston Athenæum and the Origin of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hina Hirayama, Associate Curator of Paintings & Sculpture

WINNER: 2013 Preservation Award, Victorian Society in America / New England Chapter

WINNER: Historic New England Book Prize for 2013

SELECTED: “Best of Category” in Professional Illustrated Book
Bookbuilders of Boston, 57th Annual New England Book Show (2014)

Book Cover

Selected Reviews:

"Hina Hirayama has undertaken thorough research into this institutional partnership, and narrates its story in fascinating detail."
Apollo (April 2013)

“An admirable blend of respect for accuracy and vivacity, arising from [the author’s] steadfast curiosity, research, and clear presentation.”
Maine Antiques Digest (August 2013)

“Hina Hirayama offers an engrossing history of one of the city’s most revered cultural institutions and an account of the all-but-forgotten support it received from a sister organization during its formative years. . . . Hirayama has more than succeeded in launching, with éclat, this fascinating history of Boston institutions devoted to the fine arts.”
New England Quarterly (March 2014)

The Boston Athenæum played a vital role in the founding, in 1870, of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and its continued support ensured the young institution’s survival. Established in 1807 as a membership library, the Athenæum also formed a distinguished art collection and inaugurated, as of 1827, a popular art gallery, which was, during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the city’s most important public exhibition space.

In the 1860s the Athenæum was a major participant in a movement to found an art museum in Boston. Once that goal was achieved when the museum was incorporated in 1870, the Athenæum remained an indispensable partner to the young institution, offering material, logistical, and moral support with abundant goodwill. When the MFA’s building opened in 1876, the Athenæum placed a major portion of its art collection there, and the two institutions continued to work together on the museum’s early exhibitions and acquisitions.

The cooperation between the Athenæum and the MFA was remarkable in its intensity, intimacy, and informality, yet details of this historic partnership have never been fully documented or explained. Based on extensive new research in archival sources, With Éclat chronicles the two institutions’ joint endeavor in greater detail than ever before and places this extraordinary collaboration in the context of Boston’s changing cultural landscape.


Available for purchase at the Boston Athenæum:
— $30.00 to purchase at the Boston Athenæum's Circulation desk
— $37.00 (includes shipping & handling) to purchase by mail; please email
Available elsewhere:
— Published by the Boston Athenæum, distributed by the University Press of New England
— Paperback, 240 pages, 81 illustrations (79 color)
— ISBN: 978-0-934552-82-0