In 1882, the Portland Museum of Art Maine was founded as the Portland Society of Art. At the time, the society used a variety of exhibition spaces throughout the city of Portland. Then in 1908, Mrs. Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat bequeathed her three-story mansion, the McLellan House. Funds were then available to create an art gallery in memory of her late husband, Lorenzo De Medici Sweat. New England architect John Calvin Stevens was engaged to design the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which would eventually become the Portland Museum of Art Maine. They opened to the public in 1911.
The McLellan House itself was the product of Maine’s post-Revolutionary building boom that was fueled by the city’s prosperous maritime economy. The McClellan House is a prime example of the role that architect-builders played in using a new type of architecture to build homes that confirmed their owners' position in society. The house was constructed in 1801 for Major Hugh McLellan, who was the owner of Maine's largest shipping fleet and founder of Maine’s first bank and first insurance company.
In 1880, the McClellan House was sold to Colonel Lorenzo de Medici and his wife, Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat. Colonel Sweat practiced law in Portland until his death in 1898. He was a member of the Maine Senate as well as a United States Congressman. His wife, Margaret was a highly regarded literary figure in the last half of the 19th-century. She was an esteemed member of the artistic elite as well as a world traveler. Her book reviews were the first to be written by a New England woman. They appeared in Portland, Boston, and New York papers. Mrs. Sweat was also one of the earliest proponents of historic preservation. She participated in the restoration of Mount Vernon. Consequently, although she redecorated McClellan House in a Victorian style, she did not alter its structure. When she died in 1908, she deeded the house to the Portland Society of Art, on the condition that no changes would be made to the exterior.
In 1976, Maine native Charles Shipman Payson promised the Portland Museum of Art Maine his collection of 17 paintings by Winslow Homer. However, he realized that the Portland Maine Museum of Art had some significant physical limitations. Thus, he donated $8 million toward the building of an additional wing to be designed by Henry Nichols Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners. Within two years of construction, the Portland Maine Museum of Art was opened to the public.
Mr. Payson’s generous gift served as a catalyst for further expansion of the Portland Maine Museum of Art. Many other donors came forth, both with financial support and art collections. Today, the Art Museum Portland Maine attracts over 120,000 visitors each year.
The Art Museum Portland Maine features the collections of world-class artists such as Winslow Homer, Marsden Hartley, Rockwell Kent, Louise Nevelson, and Andrew and N.C. Wyeth. These prominent artists showcase the rich artistic heritage of Maine as well as the cultural and social values of the United States. The Art Museum Portland Maine also has Maine's largest collection of European art by masters such as Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, and Pablo Picasso.