On October 18, 1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Luigi Palma di Cesnola urged the Museum's Trustees to create an art library that would help fulfill the institution's educational mission. The Museum's original 1870 New York State charter had specifically committed the new institution to "establishing and maintaining . . . a museum and library of art." (See "Today in Met History: April 13" for more about the Museum's charter.)
Cesnola was a colorful figure who served as a Union officer in the American Civil War and was later appointed American consul to Cyprus, where he oversaw the excavation and purchase of antiquities acquired by the Metropolitan during the 1870s. He served as the Museum's first director from 1879 until his death in 1904.
In an 1880 report to the Museum's Trustees, Cesnola wrote:
The necessity of permanently establishing a library in connection with the Museum is already strongly felt especially for reference and study in art matters – I have fitted up for this purpose the S.W. room of the basement with neat but durable book cases which will contain from 5 to 7,000 volumes. . . . The appointment of a Librarian becomes a necessity for the formation of said Library, collecting books, soliciting donations, etc.
The Trustees quickly acted on Cesnola's recommendation by appointing William Loring Andrews as the Museum's first librarian. He held this post until 1905, when the Trustees distinguished him with the title Honorary Librarian, which he held until his death in 1920. Andrews was an ardent bibliophile and a founding member of New York's Grolier Club, an organization devoted to "the literary study of the arts pertaining to the production of books."
Under Andrews's direction, the library grew from a small collection of books and pamphlets in a basement room of the Museum's first Central Park building to one of the world's finest art libraries, holding tens of thousands of volumes. Andrews presided over the 1910 opening of a new Italian Renaissance–style library building for the Museum, designed by McKim, Mead & White. (See "Today in Met History: July 19" for more about the 1910 building.)
Known today as the Thomas J. Watson Library, the Museum's library shares the institution's distinction of being among the world's greatest resources for the study of the arts of many cultures.
James Moske is managing archivist in the Museum Archives.
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: "The Cesnola Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art"