European art at the MFAH comprises important paintings and sculpture from the 13th to early 20th century. The expansive galleries in the Beck Building present ivories and sculpture from the late Middle Ages; panel paintings and bronzes from the Renaissance; and paintings and sculpture from the 17th to 19th centuries.
The museum began to build a collection of Old Master and 19th-century paintings as early as the 1920s and 1930s, and local interest in European art soon grew dramatically. Generous gifts of private collections in the next two decades were instrumental, and in the 1970s increased acquisition funds allowed the MFAH to focus on individual works of great quality. With the opening of the Beck Building in 2000, the MFAH was finally able to showcase a representative selection of the European collection.
Among the Renaissance highlights are Italian works by Fra Angelico and Sebastiano del Piombo, and Flemish masterpieces by Hans Memling and Rogier van der Weyden. Notable paintings of the Baroque period include examples by Orazio Gentileschi, Jan van Huysum, and Rembrandt.
The 18th- and 19th-century galleries feature paintings by Canaletto, Jean-Siméon Chardin, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Francisco de Goya, and Théodore Rousseau. On long-term loan from private collections are 17th-century Dutch and Flemish works as well as Italian Renaissance and Baroque paintings.
The renowned John A. and Audrey Jones Beck Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting contains remarkable examples of Impressionism, Post-Impressionist styles, and early Modernism.