Established in 1961 by the Pick Family, The West Bend Gallery of Fine Arts was founded to collect and exhibit the work of their illustrious relative Carl von Marr. The Milwaukee-born, Munich-trained artist Marr (1858-1936) had a stellar career mainly in Europe, but with considerable success in the United States . Having assembled the best single collection of Marr’s work, including his 1889 magnum opus The Flagellants, the museum began collecting Wisconsin regional art. This decision was based upon the fact that quality Marr works were becoming increasingly difficult to acquire and that no other institution was assembling a comprehensive survey collection of Wisconsin art. After ten years of judicious, quiet and determined collecting, in 1998 the West Bend Art Museum (WBAM) unveiled the Early Wisconsin Collection covering the years 1800 to 1950. Over the subsequent years, the WBAM developed and grew this collection both in terms of quality and quantity to the point where it joined more than twenty other similar state or regionally focused American museums.
In 2007 the Museum changed its name to the Museum of Wisconsin Art to more accurately reflect its mission and practices. Currently, the Museum of Wisconsin Art shows more contemporary Wisconsin artists, has a larger, more comprehensive archive (over 8000 files on artists plus many books, documents and audio-visual resources), and a deeper collection of historic Wisconsin art than any other institution in the state.