Formed in 1878 as the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, it was the first art museum to register its charter with the state of Ohio. The museum is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting American and European modern and contemporary art along with folk art, glass art, and photography. The permanent collection includes outstanding late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American and European modern works of art. Major collections include the Ferdinand Howald Collection of early Modernist paintings, the Sirak Collection of Impressionist and Expressionist works, The Photo League Collection, and the Philip and Suzanne Schiller Collection of American Social Commentary Art. The Museum houses the world's largest collections of works by Columbus born artists Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Elijah Pierce, and George Bellows.
Highlights include early Cubist paintings by Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, works by François Boucher, Paul Cézanne, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Edward Hopper, and Norman Rockwell, and installations by Mel Chin, Josiah Mcelheny, Susan Philipsz, and Allan Sekula.