Hirsch Library Collections

Collection Overview

The Hirsch Library contains roughly 175,000 volumes devoted to the visual arts. The collection features not only books and periodicals, but you’ll also find an array of online resources, auction catalogs dating from the 19th century, unique artists’ books, museum collection catalogs from around the globe, and artist files covering more than 25,000 artists. The collection complements the MFAH art collections and exhibitions, with additional emphasis on areas of potential growth.

Noteworthy contributions to the library come from the collections of Edgar Peters Bowron, Garth Clark & Mark Del Vecchio, Alfred C. Glassell, Jr., Manfred Heiting, Garth Jowett, Joan Morgenstern, Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Anne Wilkes Tucker, and Clinton T. Willour.

For more information about these collections and others, search the library catalog, consult a librarian, and visit the reading room.

Featured Collection: Brazilian Constructive Books from the Collection of Adolpho Leirner

Over a period of 50 years, São Paulo–based art collector Adolpho Leirner established an incomparable collection of Brazilian Constructive art. Acquired by the MFAH between 2005 and 2007, the collection of 97 artworks from the 1950s and 1960s reflects a moment of rapid modernization in Brazil.  

In 2016, Leirner enhanced this acquisition by donating his 200-volume library to the Hirsch Library. His generous contribution adds notable depth to the library’s holdings of Geometric Abstraction and Constructivist art. It complements an important collection of ephemera and correspondence donated as part of the Adolpho Leirner Archive of Brazilian Constructive Art that can be accessed in part through the Museum’s ICAA Documents Project. 

Explore the full range of Leirner’s donation to the Hirsch Library:



Search the Collections

The Hirsch Library’s catalog provides an efficient means to search virtually the entire collection of the Hirsch and Powell Libraries, including books, periodicals, theses and dissertations, artist files, and online resources. These searches can be conducted from work, home, or school via the Internet. For detailed information about items generally not included, such as auction catalogs, commercial gallery catalogs, and museum files, contact the Hirsch Library.

Explore the Rare Collections

Among the holdings of the libraries, you’ll find a growing collection of rare materials that range from the 15th century to the present day. Some highlights include an early edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1647), considered the first art history publication, in addition to a three volume set by David Roberts, Egypt & Nubia (1842-1849), regarded as one of the finest achievements of 19th-century publishing and lithography. Twentieth-century masterworks that grace our collection include a lavishly bound volume entitled The Art Work of Louis C. Tiffany (1914) that documents a work of art from the museum's collection; numerous books by Ed Ruscha, a pioneer in the creation of artists' books in the 1960s, as well as more recent limited edition publications by master book-maker Keith Smith.

Rare materials can be identified in the Hirsch Library’s catalog by selecting the “Rare” limit. Please schedule an appointment to view these materials.

Books & Periodicals

While the information landscape is rapidly changing around us, books and periodicals still play an important role in art research. You can expect to find hundreds of new book titles each month in the library’s reading room, ranging from exhibition catalogs to monographs to biographies to collection catalogs to catalogues raisonné to artists’ books to the latest issues of more than 250 periodicals.

To find a book of interest, simply search the Hirsch Library’s catalog by author, title, subject, keyword, or any combination of these.

To find a periodical of interest, simply search the Hirsch Library’s catalog by “Journal Title Keyword.” You can also limit your search by “Serials.”

If you want to access specific content within periodicals, the Hirsch Library subscribes to a number of periodical indexes and full-text resources that will allow you to search their contents.

Artist Files

Artist catalogs and ephemera files make up this collection. Artist catalogs are publications ranging from 6 to 50 pages, whereas the ephemera files are made up of content from 1 to 5 pages including newspaper clippings, gallery invitations, curriculum vitae, and artists’ statements. You can identify both artist catalogs and ephemera files in the Hirsch Library catalog by searching for the artist’s last name under “Subject Browse” and then looking for items titled “Artist Catalog File” or “Ephemera File.”

Auction Catalogs

Auction catalogs include holdings dating to the late 19th century. To browse recent acquisitions of Christie’s, Sotheby’s, or Phillips catalogs, visit the Hirsch Library reading room, where three years of catalogs are on view for your convenience. To determine whether specific sales catalogs are available, please contact the Hirsch Library. For access to information about specific lots that have sold at auction, visit the library to use one of the online subscription auction indexes.