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Museum Mile: Metropolitian Museum of Art

Break out your walking shoes NYC, it is time for the biggest (and in my opinion) best party of the year, Museum Mile. Head up to 5th avenue and 82nd street for free admission to nine museums, including the Metropolitian Museum of Art. In honor of this summer ritual we have excerpted a piece about the MET from Grove Art Online, written by Eric Myles Zafran. Get some history on this NYC landmark before you hit the jam-packed subways.

The Metropolitan Museum was founded in 1870 and had several temporary locations before the building at 82nd Street between Central Park and Fifth Avenue designed by Calvert Vaux was opened in 1880. Many additions have been made over the years with the major ones designed by McKim, Mead, and White in 1909 and later ones planned by Roche, Dinkeloo, and Associates to house the American wing and Sackler galleries. The Greek and Roman Department was one of the earliest owing to the purchase of a trove of ancient sculptures in 1873 from the collection of Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the American consul in Cyprus, who also became the first director of the museum. Today the collection ranges from Cycladic statuettes (Seated Harp-Player), through the Archaic period (standing kouros), to the Hellenistic period (Old Market Woman). Greek vases include the Euphronius Crater. The Etruscan collection includes a bronze chariot of the late 6th century bc. Ancient Roman art is represented by numerous marble portraits and sarcophagi, and fresco paintings from Boscoreale, near Pompeii.

The collection of European paintings is one of the greatest in the world and has grown thanks to wise purchases and generous gifts from a long series of distinguished donors. In 1887 Catherine Lorillard Wolfe bequeathed over 140 European 19th-century paintings. The following year the museum’s president, Henry Marquand, bought it 37 paintings that included noted examples by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Vermeer, and Hals. The next year Erwin Davis gave two Manets. From 1904 to his death in 1913, J. P. Morgan was president and, with funds from the recently established Rogers Fund, the curators, Roger Fry and then Bryson Burroughs, began making major acquisitions of works ranging from Giotto, Carpaccio, and Veronese to Brueghel and Rubens on to Ingres and Renoir. The Benjamin Altman bequest of 1913 added yet more Dutch 17th-century masters as well as Botticelli and Dürer, and William K. Vanderbilt’s 1920 bequest brought English portraits. Not only old masters, such as El Greco and Bronzino, but also the greatest accumulation of French 19th-century works came to the museum with the benefaction of Mrs Henry O. Havemeyer in 1929. This begins with Ingres’s Portrait of J. A. Moltedo, continues with many notable Corots, Courbets, and Daumiers, and culminates in the many Havemeyer Impressionists, now integrated into the handsomely reinstalled André Meyer Galleries. A few of the highlights are Manet’s Boating and his Dead Christ, Degas’s Woman with Chrysanthemums and bronze La Petite Danseuse, Renoir’s By the Seashore, Monet’s La Grenouillère, and Cézanne’s Mont S. Victoire. The next major bequest was Julius Bache’s collection, which in 1944 added works by Rembrandt, Velázquez, and Goya’s Manuel Osorio. Two years later Gertrude Stein left the Museum her portrait by Picasso. Bequests by Samuel A. Lewisohn in 1951 and Adelaide Milton de Groot in 1967 brought great Post-Impressionist masterpieces. For Robert Lehman’s 1969 bequest a special wing was built to house early Italian and Flemish panels by Sassetta, Giovanni di Paolo, and Petrus Christus; and further paintings by El Greco, Rembrandt, Ingres, and Corot. Major purchases made during these decades included Caravaggio’s Musicians (1952), Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer (1961), Monet’s Terrace at St Adresse (1967), and Velázquez’s Juan de Pareja (1971). Since the 1950s the greatest ongoing series of gifts have been from Mr and Mrs Charles Wrightsman including works by Lotto, La Tour, Guercino, Rubens, David, and Delacroix. Another couple who have enriched the holdings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Among their outright and ‘anticipated gifts’ are works by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Picasso, and Braque.

The Department of European Drawings began in 1880 with a gift of over 600 drawings purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt from James Jackson Jarves. This has been expanded to encompass sheets by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Ingres, and Degas. The Havemeyer bequest in 1929 added drawings by Rembrandt and Daumier. In 1949 Georgia O’Keeffe donated the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, which included 20th-century masters. Stieglitz himself in 1928 presented the museum with its first photographs. These became a component of the now enormous Print Department that had originated with gifts of Whistlers from H. B. Dick in 1916 and Dürers from Junius Spencer Morgan in 1919. Another great bequest of old master prints came from Felix Warburg in 1941.

The museum, as befits an institution that had several distinguished painters among its founders, has a very great collection of American painting and sculpture housed in its own wing. Many of the 19th-century’s iconic images such as Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, Bierstadt’s Rocky Mountains Cole’s Oxbow, Church’s Heart of the Andes, and Homer’s Northeaster were all acquired by 1910. Added later were Sargent’s infamous Mme X, Bingham’s Fur Traders, Martin Heade’s (1819–1904) The Coming Storm, and John White Alexander’s (1856–1915) Repose. Mrs Havemeyer’s 1929 bequest included several examples by her friend Mary Cassatt. The Alfred Stieglitz Collection received in 1949 brought the mid-century masters Demuth, O’Keeffe, Dove, and Hartley. The Department of 20th Century Art was established only in 1967, but grew rapidly. The 1998 bequest of the Gellman Collection from Mexico has added key works by Matisse and Dali. Of the post-war American holdings, the most famous is probably Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythms of 1950, but there are also characteristic works by all the chief painters—Gorky, Rothko, de Kooning, Louis, and Motherwell. The department’s largest work is the French Art Deco mural from the luxury liner The Normandie.

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