An Overview of the Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's largest and finest art museums. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe.
Lila Acheson Wallace Wing
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.
European Sculpture and Decorative Arts
The Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts has evolved from one that was established as a repository of decorative art in 1907, during the presidency of J. Pierpont Morgan. Today it is responsible for a comprehensive and important historical collection, one of the Metropolitan Museum's largest, reflecting the development of art in the major Western European countries.
The Robert Lehman Collection
The Robert Lehman Collection – numbering nearly 3,000 works of art and one of the most extraordinary private art collections ever assembled in the United States – was presented to the Metropolitan Museum by the Robert Lehman Foundation in 1969, following Mr. Lehman's death. The collection was assembled by Mr. Lehman and his parents, and is housed today in The Robert Lehman Wing, which opened to the public in 1975, and which contains galleries that were specially designed to reflect the ambience of the Lehman house in New York City.
The musical instruments collection at the Metropolitan Museum originated with gifts in 1889 of several hundred European, American, and non-Western instruments from private collectors Joseph W. Drexel and Mrs. John Crosby Brown. Mrs. Brown continued to give musical instruments to the Museum until her death in 1918, by which time some 4,000 items had been catalogued and placed on display, making the assemblage the largest and most comprehensive of its kind outside Europe.
The Museum's collection of Old Master and 19th-century European paintings – one of the greatest such collections in existence – numbers approximately 2,500 works, dozens of which are instantly recognizable worldwide. The French, Italian, Flemish, and Dutch schools are most strongly represented, with fine works also by British and Spanish masters.
Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
Nearly 1,600 objects from Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the Americas are on view in The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Michael C. Rockefeller Wing. They span 3,000 years, three continents, and many islands, and represent a rich diversity of cultural traditions.
A Brief History of the Museum
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens – businessmen and financiers as well as leading arists and thinkers of the day – who wanted to create a museum to bring art and art education to the American people.
Drawings and Prints
In 1880 Cornelius Vanderbilt presented to the Metropolitan Museum 670 drawings by or attributed to European Old Masters. In its early decades, the collection of drawings grew slowly through purchase, gift, and bequest. Among notable acquisitions of this period were major drawings by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rembrandt. In 1935, the Museum purchased an album of 50 sheets by Goya, while more than 100 works, mostly by Venetian artists of the 18th century, were acquired from the marquis de Biron in 1937. It was not until 1960 that the Department of Drawings was established as a separate curatorial area of the Museum with Jacob Bean as its first curator. During the next 30 years, the department's holdings nearly doubled in size; the collection is known particularly for its works by Italian and French artists of the 15th through the 19th century.
The Asian collection at the Metropolitan Museum is the largest and most comprehensive in the West. Each of the many civilizations of Asia is represented by outstanding works that provide – in both quality and breadth – an unrivaled experience of the artistic traditions of nearly half the world. The collection, which ranges in date from the second millennium B.C. to the early 20th century, includes paintings, woodblock prints, sculptures, metalwork, ceramics, lacquers, decorative arts, and textiles from China, Korea, and Japan, as well as the countries of South and Southeast Asia. Since the Museum's centennial in 1970, the department has been engaged in expanding its staff, collections, and display space. This process culminated in 1998 with the completion of an entire wing, occupying 64,500 square feet, devoted to Asian art – a "museum within a museum."