DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum is located on the former estate of Julian and Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dana deCordova. Julian donated his estate to Lincoln, MA, in 1930, with the stipulation that it would become a public park and art museum following his death.
Over the five-year period during which the residence was converted into a museum (1945-1950), important players in the art world helped devise a plan to keep the museum open for decades to come. The team spotted an opportunity to create a museum for contemporary art exhibitions. These were scarce in the Boston area, as were venues willing to showcase works by regional contemporary artists. When the then-named deCordova and Dana Museum and Park opened, it was the only museum focused on collecting and exhibiting the work of living artists residing in New England.
To pay for converting the deCordova home into a museum, the founding committee auctioned the vast collection that Julian and Lizzie formed during their seven decades of international travel, as independent appraisers decided it had no substantial value. That might not have come as a surprise to many who knew how Julian purchased art – he liked acquiring whatever took his fancy during his travels, not to mention that he absolutely loved a bargain.
Lincoln-based architect John Quincy Adams designed the extensive renovations that launched the mansion as a museum. In 1998, Kallman, McKinnell & Wood of Boston designed a 20,000-square-foot extension, greatly increasing the gallery space and providing access from the lower campus. In 2013, Lincoln Nursery School moved into the studio buildings.
Four years later, the Café was moved to the gift shop building, followed by the renovation of the courtyard. In 2019, the town of Lincoln amended its bylaws so the museum could partner with the nonprofit Trustees of the Reservations. The organization, which preserves nearly 25,000 acres of land and over 100 historic sites around Massachusetts, became the overseer of deCordova’s nonprofit corporation, while the town owns the property and buildings.
The deCordovas built a shingled cottage as their summer retreat i Lincoln around 1870. A great fire in the early 1900s destroyed the building, which gave Julian an opportunity to have it rebuilt with new inspiration based on architectural styles he enjoyed during his travels around the world. The architectural style of the castle is mainly Spanish, but it carried Mourish, Lombard, and even Medieval touches, such as its battlements and point arches.
Throughout the years, Julian continued to add even more color to the architecture of his castle. After moving permanently to Lincoln in 1882, he commissioned the addition of a gallery, turrets, and brick façades to imitate the chateaux that he and Lizzie had enjoyed in France. The carriage house, added in 1888 for horses and buggies, is the oldest structure standing on the property, as it survived the fire.