São Paulo Museum of Art

The São Paulo Museum of Art (in Portuguese, Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or MASP) is an art museum located on Paulista Avenue in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. It's well-known for its headquarters, a 1968 concrete and glass structure designed by Lina Bo Bardi, whose main body is supported by two lateral beams over a 74 meters freestanding space, considered an landmark of the city and a main symbol of modern Brazilian architecture.

The museum is a non-profit making private institution founded in 1947 by Assis Chateaubriand and Pietro Maria Bardi. MASP distinguished itself for many important initiatives concerning museology and art education in Brazil, as well as for its pioneer role as a cultural center. It was also the first Brazilian museum interested in Post-World War II artistic tendencies.

The museum is internationally recognized for its collection of Western art, considered the finest in Latin America and all Southern Hemisphere. It also shelters an emphatic assemblage of Brazilian art, prints and drawings, as well as smaller collections of African and Asian art, antiquities, decorative arts, and others, amounting to more than 8,000 pieces. MASP also has one of the largest art libraries of the country. The entire collection is listed as Brazilian National Heritage.


General context

At the end of the 1940s, Brazilian economy was passing through large structural changes, consolidating the transition from coffee cycle to a growing industrialization period. The state of São Paulo specifically was attracting lots of industries and workers from many regions of the country, and its capital, the city of São Paulo, was starting to became a forceful industrial hub. .]]

Regarding the artistic life, however, São Paulo's most notable reference was still the Week of Modern Art of 1922. Despite the importance this event had enjoyed in the 1920s, Modernism wouldn't draw much attention of city dwellers and institutions in the following decades. There was only one art museum in São Paulo, the Pinacoteca do Estado, solely devoted to Academic art, besides a commercial gallery.

Assis Chateaubriand, founder and owner of Diários Associados ("Associated Dailies"), the largest media and press conglomerate of Brazil at the time, was one of the most influential individuals of this period. Jockingly nicknamed "King of Brazil", he was a very active parteker in the national plans towards modernization. Backed by the power of his press conglomerate, Chateaubriand used to pressure Brazilian political and economical elite to help him in his "public campaigns". In the middle 1940s he created the Campanha da Aviação ("aviation campaign"), which consisted of vigorous requests of donations to acquire training aircraft, at the aim of endowing the country with a proper aviation system. As a result, more than one thousand aircraft were donated to Brazilian aviation schools.

After the end of the Campanha da Aviação, Chateaubriand would start a new campaign, with the boldly intent of acquiring masterpieces to form an art collection of international standard in Brazil. He intended to host the museum in Rio de Janeiro, but chose São Paulo where he believed it would be easier to gather the necessary funds, since this city was enjoying a very prosperous moment. At the same time, the European art market had been deeply influenced by the end of World War II, making it possible to acquire fine artworks for reasonable prices.

Chateaubriand would need the help of an expert in the selection of the artworks. With that purpose, he invited Pietro Maria Bardi, an Italian professor, critic and art dealer, former owner of galleries in Milan and Rome, to help him create a "Museum of Classical and Modern Art". Bardi objected that there shouldn't be distinctions among arts, proposing simply a "Museum of Art", and accepted the invitation. Planning to lead the project for only a year, Bardi would dedicate the rest of his life to it. He moved to Brazil together with his wife, the architect Lina Bo Bardi, and brought along his library and his private art collection.

The first steps (1947-1957)

(Italian, 1445-1510). Virgin and Child with the Infant St. John the Baptist, 1490/1500. Tempera on panel, diameter 74 cm.]] (French, 1510-1572). The Bath of Diana, 1559/60. Oil on wood, 78 x 110 cm.]]

The museum was inaugurated and opened to public visitation in October 2, 1947, displaying the first acquisitions, amongst which canvases by Picasso and Rembrandt. In these first years of activity, the museum was located on the first floor of the Associated Dailies headquarters. Lina Bo Bardi was in charge of adapting the building to the needs of the museum, dividing it into four distinct areas: art gallery, a didactic exposition room about history of art, temporary exhibition room and an auditorium. MASP was the first Brazilian institution interested in acquiring works of modern art. The museum would quickly become a meeting point for artists, students and intellectuals, attracted not only by its holdings, but also because of the workshops and courses about history of art, temporary exhibitions of national and foreigner artists, and the educative program, open to receive manifestations of multiple fields of art, such as theater, cinema and music.

In the 1950s the museum increased its didactic performance, creating the Institute of Contemporary Art (offering workshops of engraving, drawing, painting, sculpture, dance and industrial design), the Publicity School (presently Superior School of Propaganda and Marketing), organizing debates about cinema and literature and creating a juvenile orchestra and a ballet company. The courses were frequently given by important names of the Brazilian artistic scene, such as the painters Lasar Segall and Roberto Sambonet, the architects Gian Carlo Palanti and Lina Bo Bardi, the sculptor August Zamoyski, and the motion-picture technician Alberto Cavalcanti.

Along with the amplification of the educational program, the museum watched the growth of the collection's importance and the international recognizing of the institution. Between 1953 and 1957, a selection of 100 masterpieces of the museum's collection traveled throughout European museums, such as Musée de l'Orangerie (Paris) and the Tate Gallery (London), in a series of exhibitions organized with the intent of consolidating the collection. In 1957, the collection was also displayed in the United States, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in the Toledo Museum of Art. In the following year, the museum's holdings were presented in other Brazilian institutions, such as the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, in Rio de Janeiro.

The high-level exhibitions promoted by the museum in those first years also gathered large notoriety, causing the increasing of the attendance - making possible to develop an interested, and rising nucleus of visitors.

Consolidation of the museum

(Dutch, 1606-1669). Self-Portrait with a Golden Chain, c. 1635. Oil on panel, 57 x 44 cm.]] The collection's rising amount and importance soon required the construction of a building to headquarter the museum. With that purpose, the São Paulo City Hall donated a plot of ground, previously occupied by the Belvedere Trianon – a traditional meeting point of the city's wealthy people, which had been demolished in 1951 - to host the first edition of São Paulo Art Biennial. The ground on Paulista Avenue had been donated to the City Hall with the condition that the view to the downtown area should be preserved, throughout the valley of the Nove de Julho Avenue.

Lina Bo Bardi conceived the new building of São Paulo Museum of Art. In order to preserve the required view of the downtown area, Lina Bo Bardi idealized a sustained building, supported by four big pillars. The construction is considered to be unique worldwide for its peculiarity: the main body of the building stands on four lateral supporting pillars, generating a free area of 74 meters underneath the sustained building. Constructed between 1956 and 1968, the new site of the museum was inaugurated on November 7 by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.

Assis Chateaubriand would not get to see the inauguration of the new building. He passed away months before, victimized by thrombosis. The media empire which he raised had also been facing difficulties since the beginning of the 1960s. Growing debts and the competition in the media market by Roberto Marinho's press conglomerate – caused the scarcity of the funds which had permitted the gathering of the collection.

The overthrow of Diários Associados and the death of its founder caused the necessity of using public funds to pay the museum debts contracted with foreign institutions. During the government of president Juscelino Kubitschek, a bank named Caixa Econômica Federal granted a loan to honor the museum's international obligations and securing the loan with the museum's collection. Some years later, in the 1970s, the debt with the Brazilian government was negotiated and finally paid off.

In 1969, in response to a request by the museum, the Brazilian Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) registered the museum's holdings as a national heritage. Then, the collection became inalienable. It is part of Brazilian public patrimony, and any movement of works of the collection to outside of the country needs the authorization by IPHAN.

Notwithstanding the financial problems of the institution, São Paulo Museum of Art undergoes an even greater growing of its international recognizing. In the 1970s the museum gathered notoriety in the Eastern Hemisphere by organizing many exhibitions using selected works of its collection at Japanese museums. In 1973, the collection was presented at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Brasília. MASP's collection was presented again in Japan in 1978/79, 1982/83, 1990/91, and 1995. In 1992, works of the French school and Brazilian landscapes were exhibited in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Santiago, Chile, and in the Biblioteca Luís Angel Aragón, in Bogotá.

The building

The present building of the museum was constructed by the São Paulo City Hall and inaugurated in 1968, with the presence of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. It is famous for is remarkable brutalist structure and it is considered one of the landmarks of the Brazilian modern architecture. The building should be raised in the formerly site of Belvedere Trianon, on Paulista Avenue from where it would be possible to watch the downtown area and the Cantareira Mountains. Joaquim Eugênio de Lima, the engineer who donated the plot of ground to the City Hall, tied the donation to an express commitment that no edification should ever be constructed in that plot that would harm the amplitude of the view. Therefore, the project demanded an underground construction or, otherwise, a sustained one. The architect Lina Bo Bardi and engineer José Carlos Figueiredo Ferraz chose both alternatives. They conceived an underground block as well as a sustained structure, which would stand eight meters above the floor, with the use of four pillars connected by two huge concrete beams. Underneath those beams there lay what was considered a boldness, meaning a free space of 74 meters between the pillars and underneath the beams; the largest in the world at that time. The building inaugurated the so called protented technique reinforced concrete in Brazil.

In the construction of approximately 10,000 sq. meters there are - besides the permanent and temporary exhibition rooms – library, photo gallery, film gallery, video gallery, two auditoriums, restaurant, a store, workshop rooms, administrative offices and a technical reserved area. The building's installations and finishing are homely, as Lina Bo herself describes: "Concrete in sight, whitewash, flagstone flooring covering the great Civic Hall, tempered glass, plastic walls. Industrial black rubber flooring covering inner spaces. The belvedere is a ‘square’, with plants and flowers around, paved with parallelepipeds, according to Iberian-Brazilian tradition. There are also water spaces, small water mirrors with aquatic plants. […] I didn’t search for beauty. I’ve searched for freedom". In 2003, the building was also registered as national patrimony by Brazilian Institute for Historic and Artistic Heritage.

In the museographic area, Lina Bo Bardi also innovated by using tempered crystal sheets leaned on concrete blocks bases as display supports for the paintings. The intention is to imitate the position of the canvas on the painter's easel. In the reverse of these supports, which are not used anymore, there were planks with information about the painter and the work. Paradoxically, the museum abandoned this model of exhibition at the same time when, at the end of the 1990s, it starts to be noticed and implemented by foreigner institutions.

Between 1996 and 2001, the actual administration of the museum undertook a vast and controversy reform. Notwithstanding the indispensable restoration of the general structure, the architect and former director of the institution Julio Neves determined the substitution of the original floor conceived by Lina Bo, the installation of a second elevator, the construction of a third underground floor, and the substitution of the water mirrors for gardens. Many architects allege that the reform caused a profound discharacterization of Lina's original project.

The collection

The formation of the collection

(Flemish, 1577-1640). Portrait of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, c. 1615/32. Oil on canvas, 200 x 118 cm.]] The main body of the collection was gathered between 1947 and 1960. Pietro Maria Bardi, formerly owner of commercial galleries in Milan and Rome, was in charge of searching and selecting the works which should be acquired, while Chateaubriand had to look for donors and patrons who shared his dream of endowing the country with a museum of international standard. Although many spontaneous donations have been registered, Chateaubriand gained reputation of using bold methods of persuasion. Endorsed by the influence of his Diários Associados, he used to negotiate with the announcers the gathering of funds. After that, he rewarded the donors with the title of patrons, celebrating each new acquisition with banquets, speeches and even students parades in the streets of São Paulo, as happened at the arrival of Van Gogh's The Student.

The international art market was passing through propitious moment for those who had funds to acquire high-quality works of art – there were many of them available in view of the end of the war, and Brazil was passing through a moment of prosperity. The works of art were generally acquired in traditional and esteemed fine art auction houses, such as Christie's, Marlborough, Sotheby's, Knoedler, Seligman and Wildenstein.

The bold methods used by Chateaubriand to finance the formation of the collection produced many critics. Along with these, there were others related to the fact that the museum acquired works of art without the proper corroboration of authenticity. This impression was endorsed by the fact that the museum was at the time one of the major buyers in the international market. Unlike other institutions which acquisitions depended of approval of a curators council, the São Paulo Museum of Art usually acquired its pieces quickly, sometimes by telegram. Thanks to this agility the museum was able to gather important masterpieces, even when facing private collectors or institutions of major renown and bigger financial resources.

At the end of the 1960s, Chateaubriand's press[] conglomerate was facing troubles, with growing debts and Roberto Marinho's media companies competition. The financial difficulties of Diários Associados caused the decreasing of the museum's financial resources. Thus, after 13 years of great acquisitions, the museum started to increase its collection only by spontaneous donations of artists, companies and private collectors.

Overview of the collection

The São Paulo Museum of Art collection is considered the largest and more comprehensive collection of Western art in Latin America and all Southern Hemisphere. Among the 8,000 works of the museum, the collection of European paintings, sculptures, drawings, engravings, and decorative arts stands out. The French and Italian schools are mostly strong represented, forming the main body of the collection, followed by Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Dutch, English and German masters. The museum also keeps a significant collection of Brazilian art and Brasiliana, which witnesses the development of Brazilian art from 17th century to nowadays. Still in the context of Western art, the museum possesses important holdings of Latin and North American art. In a smaller scale, the museum's holdings contemplate representative objects of many periods and distinct non-Western civilizations – such as African and Asian arts – and others which stand out for their archaeological, historic and artistic relevance, like the select collections of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities, besides other artifacts of Pre-Columbian cultures and medieval European art.


  • Italian School: Raphael, Botticelli, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Perugino, Piero di Cosimo, Guido Reni, Guercino.
  • French School: François Clouet, Poussin, Nattier, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec.
  • Flemish, Dutch and German Schools: Hieronymus Bosch, Memling, Cranach, Quentin Matsys, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck, Jan van Dornicke.
  • English School: Reynolds, Romney, Constable, Gainsborough, Turner.
  • Modern and Contemporary Art: Picasso, Leger, Modigliani, Matisse, Chagall, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine.
  • Brazilian Art: Frans Post, Nicolas Antoine Taunay, Tarsila do Amaral, Candido Portinari, Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti, Lasar Segall.
  • Latin and North American Art: Torres Garcia, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Calder, Gilbert Stuart

The museum also has some small collections of photographs, costumes and textiles, kitsch objects, etc.


First attempt

On October 29, 2007, two men overpowered security officers and tried to reach the second floor of the museum, where the desired paintings were located. Both men ran away without taking anything.

Second attempt

On December 20, 2007, around 5:00 in the morning, three men invaded the museum and took two paintings, considered to be among the most valuable of the museum: O lavrador de café [1], by Cândido Portinari, and the Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso. The whole action took about three minutes.

The estimated value of the paintings is around R$120 million reais (approximately 70 million dollars). The museum collection is uninsured and, at the time of the robbery, it had no movement sensors among the galleries. Security cameras could only produce unclear images of the raid because they lacked infrared capability.

The pictures were recovered by the police of São Paulo on 8 January 2008, in the city of Ferraz de Vasconcelos, in the Greater São Paulo. The names of the two suspects have been withheld. After the incident, the director of the MASP promised to improve the security of the museum.

Listed in the following categories:
Post a comment
Tips & Hints
Arrange By:
23 August 2015
The finest european art collection in Southern Hemisphere. Raphael, Rubens, Goya, Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Degas, Modigliani, Renoir, Picasso... And my personal favorite, Toulouse-Lautrec.
14 December 2018
If you reach this museum, most likely you'll find so many activities, art collections, and dancing groups at the street! ????????????????
AFAR Media
8 April 2015
Check out the impressive selection of antiques at the Sunday market. After, you can cross the street and visit the handicrafts market and stop for some good street food sold among the artisan booths.
Kathleen Kyra
12 January 2017
Free on tuesday! Incredible paintings of Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Portinari, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gaugin, Modigliani, Rafaello, Tiziano, Renoir, Matisse, etc.
Ricardo G
28 August 2017
The top floor has an interesting display of the museum's collection. It's counter intuitive to have to walk around the paintings to read their info, though.
Agatha Korbus
27 August 2013
Contextually great Romanticism exhibition on the second floor featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, El Greco, Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard, Delacroix, Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Degas and much more.
Load more comments

Hotels nearby

See all hotels See all
Hotel Boulevard Inn São Paulo

starting $48

Hotel Excelsior

starting $56

Cinelandia Hotel

starting $36

Hotel São Paulo Inn

starting $39

Plaza Hotel

starting $21

Hotel Joamar

starting $35

Recommended sights nearby

See all See all
Add to wishlist
I've been here
Torre TV Bandeirantes

Torre TV Bandeirantes is a 212 metre high TV Tower in Avenida

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Teatro Sérgio Cardoso

Teatro Sérgio Cardoso is a theatre in São Paulo, Brazil. It was i

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Pacaembu Stadium

Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, colloquially known as

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Museu do Futebol


Add to wishlist
I've been here
Monumento a las Bandeiras

Монумент Бандейрас (português. Monumento às Bandeiras) —

Add to wishlist
I've been here
São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound

The São Paulo Museum of Image and Sound (in Portuguese, Museu da

Add to wishlist
I've been here
São Paulo Cathedral

The São Paulo See Metropolitan Cathedral --'See' and 'cathedra' mean

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Theatro Municipal (São Paulo)

Municipal Theatre of São Paulo is a theatre in São Paulo, Brazil. It i

Similar tourist attractions

See all See all
Add to wishlist
I've been here
Palace of Culture (Iaşi)

The Palace of Culture (Romanian: Palatul Culturii) is an edifice

Add to wishlist
I've been here

The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis (English: 'Maurice House') is an

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Palazzo Pitti

The Palazzo Pitti (pa.ˈla.ttso ˈpi.tti), in English sometimes called t

Add to wishlist
I've been here

The Musée du Louvre (Шаблон:IPA-fr), or officially Grand Louvre — in E

Add to wishlist
I've been here
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), located in the Houston Museum

See all similar places