Since its founding in 1870 the Metropolitan Museum has been concerned with the art of its own time as well as that of the past. In 1906 and 1911 funds established by George A. Hearn particularly encouraged acquisitions of works by contemporary American painters. During the first decades of the 20th century fewer examples by European artists were acquired, but certain purchases are notable. Among these were Renoir's Mme Georges Charpentier and Her Children (1879) acquired in 1907 and Cézanne's View of the Domain Saint Joseph (1889) acquired from the Armory Show in 1913. Monet died in 1926. In the same year the Museum received its first gift of one of his paintings, and in 1929 the extraordinary bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer included an additional eight.
Today, in the year 2000, the Museum owns 23 paintings by Cézanne, 42 by Monet, and 27 by Renoir. Since Monet and the Impressionists and Cézanne and the Post- Impressionists were active before 1900, their paintings are shown in the Museum's 21 galleries devoted to 19th-century European art. American paintings of the same period, several acquired through Hearn funds, are shown in the Museum's separate American Wing. What was modern yesterday has become classic today.
In 1970 the Museum established a new Department of 20th Century Art. Its purpose was to unite the Museum's European and American holdings of painting, sculpture, works on paper, as well as decorative arts since 1900. As these collections increased, space for exhibition and storage became urgently needed. Therefore, in 1987 the Museum inaugurated the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing permanently and exclusively devoted to 20th-century art.
After 1929, how did the Museum's representation of 20th-century art increase? During the 1940s the Museum received two important gifts – a single painting and one large collection. Upon her death in 1946 the Museum was notified of Gertrude Stein's bequest of her famous portrait by Picasso (1906), his first painting to enter the Museum's collection. In 1949 the gift of Alfred Stieglitz's large personal collection included: Kandinsky's Improvisation 27: The Garden of Love (1912), also shown at the Armory Show in 1913; paintings, sculpture and drawings by Brancusi, Matisse, Picabia, Picasso, and Severini; works by two Mexican artists, Marius de Zayas and Diego Rivera; and comprehensive representations of paintings and drawings by those American artists closely associated with Stieglitz – Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Georgia O'Keeffe.
Between 1950 and 1960 the Museum augmented its representation of early paintings by Picasso with three important gifts and, in 1953, with two purchases from the Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1929 in New York. The purchases from the Museum of Modern Art also included paintings by Redon, Rouault, and Matisse.
In 1967 the bequest of Adelaide Milton de Groot featured many paintings by artists of the School of Paris as well as paintings by the American artists Childe Hassam, Maurice Prendergast, and John Kane. Miss de Groot's bequest also included Max Beckmann's great triptych The Beginning (1949).
Between 1955 and 1975 the Museum acquired recently completed paintings by several American artists including Milton Avery, William Baziotes, Richard Diebenkorn, Hans Hofmann, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, and Ad Reinhardt.
Since 1980 the pace of 20th-century acquisitions has accelerated. Gifts of major works by the American Abstract Expressionists included: ten paintings by Clyfford Still; four paintings and four drawings by Willem de Kooning; and by Jackson Pollock two paintings, 40 drawings, and three sketchbooks. The most recent American acquisition is Jasper Johns' painting White Flag (1955), purchased in 1998.
Since 1980 European acquisitions similarly increased, again mostly through gifts. Scofield Thayer's large bequest in 1982 included: additional early paintings by Picasso, Matisse's tall Nasturtiums with the Painting "Dance" (1912), also shown in the Armory Show of 1913; four paintings by Bonnard; and 31 drawings and watercolors by Egon Schiele. Heinz Berggruen's gift in 1984 of 90 paintings and drawings by Paul Klee illustrate the artist's entire career, as do Boccioni's two paintings, three bronzes, 29 drawings and nine etchings from the bequest of Lydia Winston Malbin in 1989.
In 1996 and 1997 the bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn and the gifts of Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls added to the collection of masterworks by Brancusi, Braque, de Chirico, Gris, La Fresnaye, Léger, Modigliani, Soutine, and Picasso. In 1995 and 1998 the Museum purchased a large painting and 47 works on paper by Anselm Kiefer.
Strengthened by major works from the Edith and Milton Lowenthal Collection in 1991, the Museum's representation of American 20th-century painting is comprehensive as is its representation of paintings by artists of the School of Paris.
The Museum's smaller collection of 20th-century European and American sculpture is considerable but not comprehensive. At present its strengths are bronzes by Elie Nadelman and Gaston Lachaise.
The department's collection of design and architecture includes more than 4,000 objects in all media – furniture and metalwork, glass, ceramics, textiles, and drawings representing the major movements of the 20th century. Highlights include work by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Josef Hoffmann and members of the Wiener Werkstätte, Art Nouveau jewelry by René Lalique, Art Deco furniture by Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, and Italian and Japanese objects of the 1970s. In 1998 John C. Waddell's extraordinary collection of modern American design objects expanded the department's already significant holdings to include masterworks by Donald Deskey, Eliel Saarinen, Paul Frankl, and Isamu Noguchi.
The 110,000-square-foot Lila Acheson Wallace Wing inaugurated in 1987 provides exhibition space for the Museum's collection of modern art on three different levels. Installations and special exhibitions from the collection change frequently. Loan exhibitions are usually shown elsewhere in the Museum. Changing installations of large-scale sculpture by contemporary artists are installed in The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden above the Wallace Wing. The roof also offers dramatic views of Central Park and the skyline of New York.
In 1999 the Department of 20th Century Art was renamed the Department of Modern Art.
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