Located near the Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Park Slope neighborhoods of Brooklyn and founded in 1895, the Beaux-Arts building, designed by McKim, Mead and White, was planned to be the largest art museum in the world. The museum initially struggled to maintain its building and collection, only to be revitalized in the late 20th century, thanks to major renovations. Significant areas of the collection include antiquities, specifically their collection of Egyptian antiquities spanning over 3,000 years. European, African, Oceanic, and Japanese art make for notable antiquities collections as well. American art is heavily represented, starting at the Colonial period. Artists represented in the collection include Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Edgar Degas, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Max Weber. The museum also has a "Memorial Sculpture Garden" which features salvaged architectural elements from throughout New York City.
The roots of the Brooklyn Museum extend back to the 1823 founding by Augustus Graham of the Brooklyn Apprentices' Library in Brooklyn Heights. The Library moved into the Brooklyn Lyceum building on Washington Street in 1841. Two years later the institutions merged to form the Brooklyn Institute, which offered exhibitions of painting and sculpture and lectures on diverse subjects. In 1890, under its director Franklin Hooper, Institute leaders reorganized as the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences and began planning the Brooklyn Museum. The museum remained a subdivision of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, along with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children's Museum until the 1970s when all became independent.
Opened in 1897, the Brooklyn Museum building is a steel frame structure encased in classical masonry, designed by the famous architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White and built by the Carlin Construction Company. The initial design for the Brooklyn Museum was four times as large as the actualized version; actualized plans reflect a compromise to the specifications of the New York City government. Daniel Chester French, the noted sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, was the principal designer of the pediment sculptures and the monolithic 12.5-foot (3.8 m) figures along the cornice. The figures were created by 11 sculptors and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers. French also designed the two allegorical figures Brooklyn and Manhattan currently flanking the museum's entrance, created in 1916 for the Brooklyn approach to the Manhattan Bridge, relocated to the museum in 1963.
The Brooklyn Institute's director Franklin Hooper was the museum's first director, succeeded by William Henry Fox who served from 1914 to 1934. He was followed by Philip Newell Youtz (1934–1938), Laurance Page Roberts (1939–1946), Isabel Spaulding Roberts (1943–1946), Charles Nagel, Jr. (1946–1955), and Edgar Craig Schenck (1955–1959).