Origins of the Metropolitan.
Photograph of the Metropolitan Museum.
The Metropolitan Museum was founded in 1870, but its initial site was firstly a building of former dance academy on Fifth Avenue, and then the Douglas Mansion on 14th St. Finally it moved in 1880 to its present location in Central Park overseen by the board of trustees. The Met was housed in a building designed by the architect Camille Vaux, who had helped to design Central Park itself. In 1871, 174 paintings were acquired by the museum. to be located in the City of New York, for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and library of art for “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and, to that end, of furnishing popular instruction.” Over time this has expanded into the greatest art collection in America and one of the leading museums in the world.
The Greatest of all American Museums.
Great Hall of the Met, architect Richard Morris Hunt & Richard Howland Hunt.
As Robert Hughes rightly points out, the nearest equivalent to the Metropolitan Museum in New York is the British Museum in London. With the exception of painting, it is a good parallel, because both museums possess immeasurable examples of art from all corners of the world, as well as a huge repository of drawings and prints. Then there are the imperialist underpinnings. If the British Museum represents the accumulation of “imperial plunder” the Met could be seen as America’s “imperial treasure house” into which religious and secular images of all nations has been poured, thus confirming the triumph of American capital and ambition over world cultures. A more charitable view would be that it gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy and learn about the world's different cultures as well as appreciating America's place within that narrative. With its millions of objects, the Met is “an extraordinary crystallisation of America’s origins,” to use Hughes’s words again. It is magnificent in all senses too. Stepping into the entrance hall of the Met, created by Richard Morris Hunt, the grandeur of the “gilded age” is almost palpable. Hunt was the first architect to train at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, and his classical knowledge was put to good use in the entrance hall which is based on the Baths of Caracalla. This gigantic space was finished by Hunt’s son, Richard Howland Hunt in 1902. By the 1970s, Hunt’s creation was showing signs of age, the needs of the museum were changing, and thus the Met embarked upon its “master plan overseen by a previous director Thomas Hoving, in 1971.”  As his successor Phillipe de Montebello (in tenure for 30 years) explains, subsequent donations, bequests and projects have guided the future direction of the museum. Amongst these were the opening of the Robert Lehman Wing in 1975, a glass pyramidal structure with a central court and a surrounding two-storey space. Lehman, an American banker built up his collection over 60 years; after his death in 1969 the Lehman Foundation donated over 3,000 works to the Met including portraits by Ingres. Mention should also be made of the Wrightsman Collection. Charles B. Wrightsman was an oil executive who donated many fine works to the museum including Gerard David, El Greco, La Tour, Tiepolo, Rubens and J.L. David. Montebello was succeeded by the British renaissance scholar Thomas Campbell in 2009. Realising the net’s great potential, Campbell has enthusiastically surfed the digital revolution wave with lectures on curating and art on TED ,as well as increasing free content on the museum’s website, one of the best in the world. In addition to providing generous hi-resolution images, the museum’s Bulletin, many out of print catalogues and publications are freely available for download. Additionally, a virtual timeline has been created with hundreds of essays on art. Back on terra firma, the Met continues to attend auctions, follow the markets and pursue acquisitions backed up by a highly regarded curatorial team, not to mention money. Through collaborative shows, travelling exhibitions, traveling works of art, conservation projects, fellowships and exchanges, the Met has truly become a global operation.
Organization of European Paintings at the Met.
Berlinghiero , Madonna and Child, tempera on wood, gold ground, Overall 80.3 x 53.7 cm; painted surface, 76.2 x 49.5 cm, Gift of Irma N. Straus, 1960.
Paolo Veronese, Venus, Mars united by Cupid, 1570, oil on canvas, 205.7 x 161 cm, (John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1910.
Although a group of paintings had been brought from Paris and Brussels in 1871 to the Metropolitan, the Division of Paintings wasn’t established until 1886. Moreover, it wasn’t strictly a collection of paintings as it included drawings, watercolours, prints, photographs and textiles. The diversity of the original collection led to the creation of appropriate different departments, with this process of specialization continued by the ongoing acquisition of art from varied cultures and civilizations. Where painting was concerned, the most significant part of this process was the separation of European from American schools, which leaves fifteen other divisions of art in the museum, including drawing and photography. All the major European schools are represented with Italian, French and Dutch holdings the most impressive. Chronologically, Italian renaissance art runs from lesser known masters like Berlingiheri’s Madonna ( more on him and Byzantine art here) to sumptuous masterpieces like Veronese’s Mars, Venus united by Cupid and Correggio’s Four Saints.
Caravaggio, The Musicians, c. 1595, oil on canvas, 92.1 x 118.4 cm, Rogers Fund, 1952.
Rembrandt, Aristotle with the Bust of Homer, 1653, oil on canvas, 143.5 x 136.5 cm, purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961.
Due to the bias against Italian baroque art, it wasn’t until recently that this area was taken seriously; this really started with the bequeathing of Caravaggio’s Musicians in 1952, which led to a less “serendipitous” and more systematic approach towards collecting baroque art. Prior to Caravaggio, and marking a bridge between Veronese and Caravaggio, we could cite Barocci’s St Francis bought by the museum in 2003. Turning away from Italian to Dutch and Flemish, these holdings are very impressive. Amongst these schools can be found exemplary canvases like Rembrandt’s Aristotle with the Bust of Homer, and Vermeer’s Servant Girl by a Window, one of five of the master’s pictures that the museum owns. The French Masters of the 17th century are particularly well represented here: Poussin, Claude, George de La Tour’s Penitent Magdalene from the Wrightsman Collection, David, Ingres’s Madame Leblanc from the Lehman Collection. Realism and French Impressionism is very much in evidence with such works as Corot’s Ville de Avray and Monet’s Terrace at St Addresse. The Met possess a wonderful collection of Flemish painting as well as German. Some of the jewels to be found here are Van Eyck’s Crucifixion/Last Judgment and Pieter Brughel’s The Harvesters. There are very fine paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck, such as the former’s Rubens and his Family. German masterpieces to look out for include Cranach’s Judgement of Paris. Though Spanish art is not as plentiful as the previous schools, it makes up for it in quality. Two outstanding examples of Spanish painting include El Greco’s View of Toledo and Velasquez’s Juan de Paraja portrait. English painting here is mainly 18th century and early 19th century with the likes of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Hogarth and Lawrence. There are interesting stylistic cross-overs between English and American portraits, e.g. Thomas Sully’s ravishing oil sketch of Queen Victoria.
Velasquez, Juan de Pareja, 1650, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 69.9 cm, purchase, Fletcher and Rogers Funds, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), by exchange, supplemented by gifts from friends of the Museum, 1971.
El Greco, View of Toledo, oil on canvas, 121.3 x 108.6 cm, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.
American Painting at the Met.
|Matthew Pratt, The American School, 1765, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 127.6 cm, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 1897|
Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware River, 1851, oil on canvas, 378.5 x 647.7 cm, Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, NY, 1897.
George Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders Crossing the Missouri, 1845, 73.7 x 92.7 cm, Morris K. Jessop Fund.
When the Met was formed back in 1870, it was stated that New York City and the Nation “required an extensive public gallery to contain the greater works of our painters and sculptors.” From 1870 to 1906 the growth of collection depended mainly on gifts and bequests from such collectors as John S Kennedy, H.O. Havemeyer and Morris K. Jessup. Today, the American pictures number about 1,250 and include 625 artists both distinguished and little known or identified. An American wing was opened in 1924, and in 1949 a Department of American Painting and Sculpture was formed; in 1967, the works of artists born after 1875 came under the jurisdiction of the newly created Department of Twentieth Century Art. In 1980 a new American wing was inaugurated after much re-construction and renovation, in order to combine under one roof American paintings, sculpture and decorative art. This was further refurbished in 2012. There seems no need to dispute the Met’s claim that their collection of American art is probably the finest in the country, illustrating all American art from miniatures done in the colonial period to examples of abstract expressionism. The founders of American art are in evidence (West and his school, Copley, Pratt and Stuart), 19th century landscape artists such as Cole, Bierstadt, local customs and historical narrative in Bingham and Leutze (lecture) and all shades of American modern art are represented from Hopper to Pollock.
1) Photograph of the Metropolitan Museum.
2) Great Hall of the Met, architect Richard Morris Hunt & Richard Howland Hunt.
3) Berlinghiero , Madonna and Child, tempera on wood, gold ground, Overall 80.3 x 53.7 cm; painted surface, 76.2 x 49.5 cm, Gift of Irma N. Straus, 1960.
4) Correggio, Saints Peter, Martha, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard, oil on canvas, 221.6 x 161.9 cm, John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1912.
5) Paolo Veronese, Venus, Mars united by Cupid, 1570, oil on canvas, 205.7 x 161 cm, (John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1910.
6) Barocci, St Francis, c. 1600-4, oil on canvas, 89.9 x 78.4 cm; with added strips, 91.1 x 79.7 cm, purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift and 2002 Benefit Fund, 2003.
7) Caravaggio, The Musicians, c. 1595, oil on canvas, 92.1 x 118.4 cm, Rogers Fund, 1952.
8) Rembrandt, Aristotle with the Bust of Homer, 1653, oil on canvas, 143.5 x 136.5 cm, purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1961.
9) Vermeer, Servant Girl at a Window, 1662, oil on canvas, 45.7 x 40.6 cm, Marquand Collection, Gift of Henry G. Marquand, 1889.
10) Velasquez, Juan de Parejo, 1650, oil on canvas, 81.3 x 69.9 cm, purchase, Fletcher and Rogers Funds, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), by exchange, supplemented by gifts from friends of the Museum, 1971.
11) El Greco, View of Toledo, oil on canvas, 121.3 x 108.6 cm, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929.
12) Picasso, Seated Harlequinn, 1901, Oil on canvas, lined and mounted to a sheet of pressed cork, 83.2 x 61.3 cm, purchase, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Loeb Gift, 1960.
13) Lucas Cranach, Judgment of Paris, c. 1528, oil on wood, 101.9 x 71.1cm, Rogers Fund, 1928.
14) Peter Paul Rubens, Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment (1614–1673), and Their Son Frans (1633–1678), c. 1635, oil on wood, 203.8 x 158.1 cm, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, in honour of Sir John Pope-Hennessy, 1981.
15) George de La Tour, Penitent Magdalene aka “The Magdalene with Two Flames”, c. 1640-44, Oil on canvas, 133.4 x 102.2 cm), Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 1978.
16) Ingres, Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn, 1851-3, oil on canvas, 121.3 x 90.8 cm, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.
17) Corot, Ville de Avray, 1870, Oil on canvas, 54.9 x 80 cm, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887.
18) Monet, Terasse at St Addresse, 1867, oil on canvas, 98.1 x 129.9 cm, Purchase, special contributions and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1967.
19) Henri Matisse, Nasturtiums with the Painting, “Dance 1”, 1912, oil on canvas, 191.8 x 115.3cm, Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982.
20) Matthew Pratt, The American School, 1765, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 127.6 cm, Gift of Samuel P. Avery, 1897.
21) Samuel F.B. Morse, Susan Walker Morse (The Muse), 1836-7, oil on canvas, 187.3 x 146.4 cm, Bequest of Herbert L. Pratt, 1945.
22) Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoake, Northampton, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm- An Oxbow Lake, 1836, oil on canvas, 130.8 x 193 cm, Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908.
23) Thomas Sully, Queen Victoria, 1838, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 71.5 cm, Bequest of Francis T. Sully Darley, 1914.
24) George Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders Crossing the Missouri, 1845, 73.7 x 92.7 cm, Morris K. Jessop Fund.
25) Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware River, 1851, oil on canvas, 378.5 x 647.7 cm, Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, NY, 1897.
26) Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains: Lander’s Peak, 1863,oil on canvas, 186.7 x 306.7 cm, Rogers Fund, 1907.
27) Thomas Eakins, The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), 1871, oil on canvas, 81.9 x 117.5 cm, Purchase, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Fund and George D. Pratt Gift, 1934.
28) Edward Hopper, The Lighthouse at Two Lights, 1929, oil on canvas, 74.9 x 109.9 cm, Hugh Kastor Fund.
29) Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1950, Enamel on canvas, 266.7 x 525.8cm, George A. Hearn Fund, 1957.
30) Plaque, The Vocation of Peter and Andrew, England, c. 1170-1180, Champleve, Enameled, Engraved and Gilded, Copper - 8.6 x 12.4 cm, French art market, 2013.
 Robert Hughes, American Visions, 3.
 Guide to the Metropolitan Museum, 122.
 Ibid, VII.