The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is one of the oldest art institutions in Texas. On April 23, 1892, a group of Fort Worth women applied for and received from the State of Texas a charter establishing the Fort Worth Public Library Association, a part of whose stated purpose was "the accumulation of paintings and artistic work of every character for the enjoyment and cultivation of our people." It was known as the Art Gallery of the Carnegie Public Library in 1901 and then as the Fort Worth Museum of Art in 1910, the Fort Worth Art Center in 1954, the Fort Worth Art Center Museum in 1971, and the Fort Worth Art Museum in 1974. The current name was adopted on November 1, 1987. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth houses the collection of the Fort Worth Art Association and is located at 1309 Montgomery Street at Camp Bowie Boulevard in the Fort Worth Cultural District. The association's initial gallery space was located in the Carnegie Library, which was built with a grant from Andrew Carnegie in 1901. The first painting acquired was George Inness's Approaching Storm (1875), purchased in 1904. During these early years the association presented exhibitions of national artists and, until the mid-1930s, annual exhibitions of paintings by Texan artists. In 1910, to take care of expanded community activities and acquisitions, the Fort Worth Art Association, which still governs the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, was organized. Foremost among the members of the Fort Worth Art Association in its early years were Mrs. E. E. Bewley, its long-time president, and Jennie Scott Scheuber, who was instrumental in getting the first loan collection from the American Federation of Art sent to Fort Worth. Scheuber also suggested the formation of the Friends of Art, a group of patrons active from 1925 until 1937, each of whom contributed at least fifty dollars annually towards the purchase of art objects. This group's first purchase for the museum was one of Thomas Eakins's most famous paintings, The Swimming Hole (ca. 1883–85).
During the 1930s and 1940s the Fort Worth Art Association was responsible in part for a resurgence of interest in local Tarrant County and Texas artists. From the late 1940s until 1965 the association sponsored the Local Artists Show, an annual event that fostered support for the Fort Worth School of artists; solo exhibitions of local artists' work were also mounted annually. The focus on national and international art characteristic of the association's early years returned in the 1950s, and while local artists continued to receive some attention, they now were displayed with American and European artists.
The first building in the present complex was designed by Herbert Bayer, a Bauhaus-trained architect, designer, and photographer. It was funded by a city bond issue and completed in 1954. Subsequent additions, which included the William E. Scott Theater and doubled the museum's interior space by 1974, were the work of O'Neil Ford and Associates. These additions were accomplished through private funding, primarily from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation and a grant from the William E. Scott Foundation. In accordance with the sentiments of its founders, the Fort Worth Art Association has remained a private nonprofit corporation that owns and controls the art collection but does not now, nor has it in the past, owned any of the structures in which that collection has been housed. The museum building is owned by the city of Fort Worth, which also provides funds for maintaining the physical plant. For the purchase of art work as well as the major portion of its operating budget, the museum relies on donations, fund drives, and endowments. The most substantial of these are the Benjamin J. Tillar Memorial Trust, the Anne Burnett and Charles Tandy Foundation, and the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.
From the early days of volunteer participation and direction, most notably by artist and teacher Sallie Gillespie in the 1930s and 1940s and association president Sam Cantey III and board chairman Robert Windfohr in the early 1950s, the professional staff of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth had grown to over twenty employees by 1988. Fort Worth Art Association members continue to play a significant role in the direction and operation of the museum. The museum sponsors symposia, gallery talks, lectures by artists and scholars, and films geared to the education of the general public. Children's art classes and introductory and advanced art history courses are offered on a regular basis. New areas of activity for the museum include a more intense focus on its role as an archive and resource for advanced study of twentieth-century art, and to this end the library will become a repository of archives and other materials ancillary to the actual art works in the collection. Several artists or their estates, including Robert Motherwell and Morris Louis, have donated major works and minor or preparatory works relating to these works and other acquisitions, thus encouraging this project. In 1988 the museum's holdings numbered 400 paintings, 60 sculptures, 200 drawings, and 1,000 prints. By 1994 the number of holdings had almost doubled. Among them are such modern masterpieces as Picasso's Vollard Suite (1930–37) and Reclining Woman Reading (1960), Beta Mu (1961) by Morris Louis, Number 5, 1952 (1952) by Jackson Pollock, and Stephen's Iron Crown (1981) by Motherwell, in addition to numerous other works by contemporary masters Mark Rothko, Hans Hofmann, Frank Stella, Donald C. Judd, Claes Oldenburg, Nancy Graves, Ellsworth Kelly, and others. The collection also includes significant works by Melissa Miller, David Bates, James Surls, and other contemporary Texas artists.
The museum has organized and circulated many major traveling exhibitions accompanied by scholarly publications either in catalogue or book form, for example The Sculpture of Nancy Graves: A Catalogue Raisonne (1987), El Dia de los Muertos: The Life of the Dead in Mexican Folk Art (1987), and Selected Works from the American Collection: 1940 to the Present (1988). In addition the museum presents international loan exhibitions such as Je Suis le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso (1988), German Expressionism After the Great War: The Second Generation (1989), and Picasso and the Age of Iron (1993). In 1989 the museum responded to Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy by cosponsoring 10 + 10: Contemporary Soviet and American Painters, the first major exhibition to combine contemporary Soviet and American artists and the first Soviet/American exchange show to tour both countries. Since 1985 the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth has published the bimonthly Calendar magazine for its members. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth maintains a well-defined relationship with its two neighbors, the Amon Carter Museum and the Kimbell Art Museum. The Amon Carter focuses on the art of the American West and American art in general until 1940, the Kimbell covers non-Western art and European art up to 1920, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth concentrates on European art since 1920 and American art since 1940. The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is accredited by the National Association of Museums. It is a member of the American Association of Museums, American Federation of Arts, International Congress of Museums, American Art Alliance, National Art Education Association, Museum Store Association, American Booksellers Association, and the National Society for Fundraising Executives. In 1993 the museum had a staff of twenty-five and 82,586 visitors.