With his discriminating eye and generous spirit, Matthias H. Arnot gave the Greater Elmira Area a Museum that maintains and renews his devotion to collecting the finest in representational art.
A talent for any art is rare, but it is given to nearly every one to cultivate a taste for art; only it must be cultivated in earnestness. The more things thou learnest to know and to enjoy, the more complete and full will be, for thee, the delight of living.
-- Plato, quoted by Matthias H. Arnot in the first catalog of his painting, 1980’s.
Business and civic leader Matthias H. Arnot (1833-1910) collected more than 80 paintings and sculptures for his Greek Revival home in Elmira starting in the 1870s. At his death, Arnot bequeathed his collection and his home to the community as the Arnot Art Gallery. Upon this foundation, the Arnot Art Museum, as the institution has been called since 1970, has continued to acquire, through purchase and gift, a collection of 19th, 20th, and 21st century paintings, drawings, and sculptures that today comprises the most comprehensive and distinctive collection of representational art – art with a recognizable subject matter – in the country.
Today, Arnot’s 1890s Picture Gallery, restored in 1985, is one of the few remaining examples of late 19th century American private picture galleries still housing its original collection. A modern addition in 1982, designed by Graham Gund Associates, has given the Museum additional space for the exhibition of contemporary representational art of “enduring worth and interest,” in the words of Matthias Arnot, for the expansion of educational programs.