From the mid-1920s to the end of the 1950s, Samuel Henry Kress (1863-1955) and the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, established in 1929, amassed one of the most superb collections of European old master paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts ever assembled through the efforts of one individual. The manner in which the Kress Collection was shared with the American people was equally remarkable. Eighteen hundred works of art were donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to form the first museum for the nation. The rest - another 1,300 pieces - were distributed to 18 cities across the United States where Kress had "five and dime" stores. These Kress regional collections brought the first Italian paintings and sculpture to communities where Kress stores served the public.
In 1954 and 1962 the Columbia Museum of Art received two large gifts of Renaissance, Baroque and 18th-century art from the Kress Foundation of New York, which forms the nucleus of an important European collection. The Museum's renowned Kress Collection includes 77 Old Master Renaissance and Baroque paintings and decorative arts. Of particular note: a rare Nativity fresco by Sandro Botticelli, Venetian scenes by Giovanni Antonio Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, and Bernardo Bellotto, and works by Ribera, Bernardo Strozzi, Boucher, and Tintoretto.