It would be impossible to see all of the nearly 500,000 pieces at the Museum of Fine Arts in one visit. You can check items off your MFA bucket list over time, but you can only see and appreciate so many pieces in one visit.
For that reason, I’ve compiled a list of some unmissable pieces at the MFA, whether it’s your first visit or your 100th.
“Dance at Bougival” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
One of the most recognizable pieces at the MFA, “Dance at Bougival” is gorgeous and colorful. The Impressionist galleries never disappoint, and you can look at Monets and Van Goghs after visiting this painting.
“Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” by Paul Gauguin
Gauguin’s up-close look at day-to-day life is both beautiful and haunting. The questions he poses in the title should parallel your thought processes while dissecting the art. If you’re in the mood for an existential crisis, this is a good painting to sit in front of for a while.
“The Great Wave” by Katsushika Hokusai
Copies of “The Great Wave,” much like Monet’s “Water Lilies,” can be found around the world. The MFA typically keeps a copy on view, but, unfortunately, “The Great Wave” is on loan in Seattle through 2024. Be sure to look for Hokusai’s work next semester!
“Slave Ship” by Joseph Mallord William Turner
Certainly one of the most emotional and heavy pieces in the museum, Turner’s “Slave Ship” depicts a violent scene out at sea. It’s a phenomenal example of Romanticism and an honest look at British history.
“King Menkaura (Mycerinus) and Queen”
I’m typically not very compelled by ancient art, but the Menkaure Dyad is a really beautiful Egyptian sculpture. Studied for decades, the age of this statue — as well as the fact that it’s still intact — is truly remarkable and is a great piece of history for all viewers.
“Paul Revere” by John Singleton Copley
Paul Revere is an incredibly important figure in Boston history and Copley Square’s namesake is John Singleton Copley himself. This gentle portrait of Revere, widely celebrated in the Boston art world, is a lovely demonstration of Copley’s talent.
“The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” by John Singer Sargent
Sargent is another important figure in Boston art history, and his portrait of young sisters is a delightful showcase of his talent. The light, shadows and curious facial expressions of his subjects make it a playful and poignant piece.
“At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight)” by Childe Hassam
Hassam’s painting of a snowy evening is a gorgeous presentation of Boston Common. It’s a must-see given the MFA’s location and Hassam’s beautiful realism.
“Artist in His Studio” by Rembrandt Harmesz van Rijn
Rembrandt’s work is rightly revered and his portrait of an artist is a dynamic look at a seemingly solemn, demure figure paired with the grandeur of an easel. An intriguing commentary on his own craft, Rembrandt’s painting is worth a visit.
“Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia)” by Frida Kahlo
Kahlo’s portraits never fail to be mesmerizing, and “Dos Mujeres” is an apt demonstration of her talent. Picturing Salvadora and Herminia, Kahlo captures the humanity of her subjects better than most.
When you enter the Greek and Roman galleries, your jaw will drop at the magnitude of Juno. She’s over 12-feet tall and is truly breathtaking. A walk through the ancient galleries is not to be missed, and the giant Juno statue is, in my opinion, the most stunning piece.
I have many more favorite artworks I could’ve listed, but these 11 in particular should make for a strong introduction to the MFA’s diverse collection!