- Associated Press - Friday, November 12, 2010

BOSTON (AP) - For years, the Thomas Sully painting of George Washington on the banks of the Delaware River hung in a modern art section in the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. The masterpiece, depicting Washington’s 1776 crossing during the American Revolution, often got dirty, did not sit in its original frame and typically received curious glances from visitors wondering what the piece was doing there.

On Friday, the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts gave a sneak peak of the 1819 painting’s new home during a preview for museum members and the media of a new wing of art from the Americas.

Museum officials say the new “Art of the Americas Wing” previewed Friday will house more than 5,000 pieces, ranging from pre-Colombian gold to abstract expressionist paintings. It also will allow the MFA to more than double its collection of American work on exhibit, officials said.

That allowed for Sully’s “The Passage of the Delaware” to be housed in a new section dedicated for art around the theme of the American Revolution, said conservator Rhona MacBeth.

“Before, this painting was viewed but not really seen since it wasn’t in context,” MacBeth said. “But now it is in a place that has better lighting and grabs your attention as it was intended to do.”

In addition, it will be the first time in more than 100 years that the painting and its original frame have been reunited, MacBeth said.

A fundraising campaign raised $504 million for new construction and renovations, including $345 million for the 21,000-square-foot Americas wing. Construction began on the wing five years ago.

The Art of the Americas Wing will have 53 galleries with nine period rooms and four “Behind the Scenes” galleries.

Most of the museum’s artwork from pre-Colombian America sat in storage and rarely was seen, Dorie Reents-Budet, curator of the MFA’s Art of the Ancient Americas, said before the wing opened. For example, the museum’s collection of Mayan burial urns from Guatemala rested quietly in crates after the museum received them as a gift in the 1970s, she said.

“They just sat there for years because we had no space for them,” Reents-Budet said. “But now we can enjoy them. It’s one of the best collections of pre-Colombian burial urns in the country.”

Until recently, the museum only was able to showcase around 80 pieces of pre-Colombian art at one time, Reents-Budet said. With the new wing, the museum now has two galleries, which include Mayan cocoa cups, Peruvian statues and clothing from Native Americans of the Great Plains.

She said American Indian textiles will rotate out of exhibits every six to nine months.

Elsewhere, the new Americas wing will include modern paintings from Georgia O’Keeffe and photographs by Ansel Adams. It also will house works from Latin American artists, such as Chilean hyperrealist painter Claudio Bravo.

The museum will hold exclusive events all next week around the opening of the new wing, which is scheduled to open to the public Nov. 20.

(This version corrects the name of the museum in the first paragraph.)