The modern main building of Portland’s art museum, designed by I. M. Pei & Partners and opened in 1983, is an arresting red-brick presence on Congress Square, and it’s top-rate by every standard. The museum features selections from its own fine collections along with a parade of touring exhibits. The museum, which began as the Portland Art Society in 1882, has over the years amassed particularly strong holdings of American artists with Maine connections, including Winslow Homer, Andrew Wyeth, and Edward Hopper, and it has fine displays of Early American furniture and crafts. The museum shares with Colby College the Joan Whitney Payson Collection, which includes wonderful European works by Renoir, Degas, and Picasso, among other titans. Recent special exhibitions have brought the art books of Henri Matisse, paintings by the late part-time Mainer David Driskell, a retrospective of photorealist painter Richard Estes, and a collection of portraits by photographer Richard Avedon. The museum’s film series, shown on an auditorium big-screen, is a worthy substitute for the arthouse cinema Portland lacks.
If you’re into American masters, check out the tour of the Winslow Homer Studio at Prout’s Neck in Cape Elizabeth, offered on Mondays and Fridays in the summer ($65, van trip from museum, call to reserve well ahead). Homer spent the last 26 years of his life there, staring at the rockbound coast and creating some of his most famous works.