Speed Art Museum
The Speed Art Museum just wrapped-up the well-received Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery … but Kentucky’s largest and oldest art museum has plenty more to offer.
The Speed Museum opened in January 1927 as a memorial to Louisville businessman and philanthropist James Breckinridge Speed. It was founded by his wife, Hattie Bishop Speed, who served as the museum’s first president and director.
The original limestone building was designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis. Since then, The Speed has undergone three additions and an extensive renovation in 1996.
The museum’s debut collection contained many donated pieces that were once shared by the Speeds.
Today, the Speed Art Museum houses more than 13,000 pieces in its permanent collection – with works ranging from ancient Egyptian to contemporary art. Two of its most significant acquisitions include Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Woman and Paul Cezanne’s Two Apples on a Table.
The Art Sparks Interactive Gallery paints an interesting picture – giving children a unique, hands-on approach to art appreciation. This family favorite features dozens of activities, multi-media, and works of art.
In addition, The Speed offers a variety of revolving exhibitions to its more than 180-thousand visitors each year.
And a large gift from Alice Speed Stoll, the granddaughter of James Breckinridge Speed, has helped ensure that museum will be enjoyed for many years to come.
- James Breckinridge Speed was the nephew of Abraham Lincoln’s best friend, Joshua Speed (of the Speed family at Historic Farmington). In 1911 J.B. Speed donated the Lincoln statue that stands in the capitol rotunda in Frankfort, Ky.
- J.B. Speed’s father, also James Speed, was the U.S. Attorney General under both Abe Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.
- J.B. Speed was the president of Louisville Street Railway Company and of the Louisville Cement Company. He also served as president of the Ohio Valley Telephone Company.
- The Speed Scientific School at the University of Louisville is also a memorial to J.B. Speed. It was established in 1925 by his two children.
- Harriet “Hattie” Bishop Speed was well-known in Louisville in her own right - she was a concert pianist, music teacher and advocate for the arts. The nearly 200 volumes of bound Kentucky sheet music at U of L’s Dwight Anderson Music Library were principally the gift of Hattie Bishop Speed. There is also a concert series named in her honor … as well as a room at the Dupont Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Old Louisville. Mrs. Speed also served seven terms as president of the Kentucky Humane Society.
- According to the Encyclopedia of Louisville, Hattie’s father, William Bishop, was co-proprietor of the original Galt House hotel.
- James Breckinridge Speed and Harriet Bishop Speed (who was his second wife) were married until his death in 1912. Their union lasted six years.
- The Speed Art Museum was opened as the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum … and was later called the J.B. Speed Art Museum.
- The Encyclopedia of Louisville states that in addition to the Speed Art Museum, architect Arthur Loomis designed two other buildings for Mrs. Speed: the Music Room behind her house on West Ormsby Avenue (1916) and a new Portland Health Center (1930).
- The Preston Pope Satterwhite Wing of the Speed Art Museum (the first addition to the original building) was added in 1954. Dr. Satterwhite was a prominent benefactor of the museum and the wing contains much of his own collection of medieval and renaissance works.
Watch our Season 2 Louisville Life interview with Speed Art Museum Director Dr. Charles Venable.
- Program 313
- Behind-the-senes at three of Louisville's homegrown magazines, cooking classes with Chef Mary Wheatley, a visit to the headquarters of National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the history of the Speed Art Museum. (#313)