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The New American Wing Part 2: The Charles Engelhard Court and the Period Rooms

American

The renovated Court, which has always been one of the Museum's loveliest and most popular spaces, features a new display of large-scale sculpture, mosaics, stained glass, and architectural elements. The monumental sculpture collection is installed on a new main-floor level—near the stunning loggia designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the main entrance of Laurelton Hall (about 1905)—as well as on a lower level in front of the facade of Martin E. Thompson's Branch Bank of the United States (1822–24), originally located at 15 1/2 Wall Street in New York City. Included are marble and bronze figurative works by such American master sculptors as Hiram Powers (1805–1873), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880–1980), and Paul Manship (1885–1966). These familiar works were reinstalled in new groupings to encourage aesthetic and thematic comparisons and allow viewers unprecedented up-close access. Notable is the relocation of the marble Milmore and Melvin memorials by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) from the balcony to the first floor, where they can be appreciated in proximity to other superlative American Beaux-Arts sculptures. The popular pool feature was redesigned to showcase two bronze fountains by Frederick William MacMonnies (1863–1937) and Janet Scudder (1869–1940). John La Farge's ambitious allegorical Welcome Window (1908–9)—a virtuosic work in stained glass—is installed next to Saint-Gaudens's marble-and-mosaic tour de force Vanderbilt Mantelpiece (1881–83). American neoclassical marbles of the mid-nineteenth century returned to the courtyard, displayed in a distinct group between a new seating area and the Branch Bank facade.

The collection of American decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum extends from the late seventeenth to the early twentieth century and includes approximately twelve thousand examples of furniture, silver, glass, pewter, ceramics, and textiles. Present in the collection are objects made on American soil from the early colonial period, reflecting the settlers' keen desire to reproduce as faithfully as possible the material world they had left behind in England, Holland, and other homelands. Styles adhered closely to overseas developments, though regional schools of cabinetmaking did emerge rather swiftly in Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, and Charleston. Over the next two centuries, assimilating trends and techniques from across the Atlantic was the major preoccupation of American designers and craftsmen. The department's holdings reflect this ongoing dialogue, as well as the many truly original voices in American decorative arts.

The Metropolitan's collection of American stained glass is perhaps the most comprehensive anywhere and features the innovative work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Also noteworthy is the rest of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century glass collection, including objects designed and produced by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company; early furniture up to about 1820; Baroque-style silver of about 1700; presentation and exposition silver objects of the later nineteenth century; and nineteenth-century ceramics.

More about the Department and Its Collection

In the field of American decorative arts, the Metropolitan's first major acquisition was inspired by a large exhibition of American furniture, silver, glass, and paintings held in conjunction with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909, a grand pageant and exposition commemorating the three-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson's initial exploration of the river that bears his name. Mrs. Russell Sage purchased the distinguished Bolles collection of nearly nine hundred pieces of early American furniture and related domestic objects—many of which had been on display at the exposition—and presented it to the Museum. From that essential nucleus, the holdings have multiplied in quantity and scope to such a degree that they now fairly represent the changing tastes of this country's inhabitants across more than two centuries, in all of its regions, in rural communities as well as urban centers.

The Metropolitan's Department of American Decorative Arts was established in 1934, splitting off from a more generalized department of decorative arts, and the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture followed fourteen years later. Both are housed in The American Wing, which opened in 1924. The wing was expanded substantially in 1980 and again in 1988 with the construction of The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, where the Museum's entire reserve collection of American objects is on view, including six hundred pieces of furniture and approximately seven thousand works in other decorative media, such as silver, glass, and ceramics.

Highlights of the department's silver collection include the work of Paul Revere and of Tiffany & Company. The extensive glass collection incorporates blown- and pressed-glass vessels, with superb works by the New England Glass Company, the Dorflinger Works, and Tiffany Studios. The ceramics holdings incorporate a wide variety of materials, techniques, and manufacturers, from Pennsylvania-German redware to Rookwood Pottery. The collection of textiles includes more than one hundred quilts, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century needlework samplers, and fabrics designed by Candace Wheeler, America's most prominent female textile and interior designer of the nineteenth century.

Renovation of the American Wing (2007–2011)

In May 2007, the Museum began a multiyear, comprehensive renovation of The American Wing in order to present the Museum's superlative collections in the clearest, most logical, and most beautiful manner possible. The completion of the second phase of the project (May 2009) comprised the reopening of The Charles Engelhard Court—the grand, light-filled pavilion that long served as the formal entrance to the wing—as well as the Museum's twenty historic interiors, which were reordered, renovated, and reinterpreted and include new touch-screen kiosks that provide visitors with in-depth information about the rooms and the objects they house. The reopening of the popular American Wing Café, on the park side of the court, was also included in this phase of the project to reconfigure, renovate, and upgrade nearly every section of The American Wing by 2011.

Part Two: The Charles Engelhard Court and the Period Rooms

The renovated Court, which has always been one of the Museum's loveliest and most popular spaces, features a new display of large-scale sculpture, mosaics, stained glass, and architectural elements. The monumental sculpture collection is installed on a new main-floor level—near the stunning loggia designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the main entrance of Laurelton Hall (about 1905)—as well as on a lower level in front of the façade of Martin E. Thompson's Branch Bank of the United States (1822–24), originally located at 15 1/2 Wall Street in New York City. Included are marble and bronze figurative works by such American master sculptors as Hiram Powers (1805–1873), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880–1980), and Paul Manship (1885–1966). These familiar works were reinstalled in new groupings to encourage aesthetic and thematic comparisons and allow viewers unprecedented up-close access. Notable is the relocation of the marble Milmore and Melvin memorials by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) from the balcony to the first floor, where they can be appreciated in proximity to other superlative American Beaux-Arts sculptures. The popular pool feature was redesigned to showcase two bronze fountains by Frederick William MacMonnies (1863–1937) and Janet Scudder (1869–1940). John La Farge's ambitious allegorical Welcome Window (1908–9)—a virtuosic work in stained glass—is installed next to Saint-Gaudens's marble-and-mosaic tour de force Vanderbilt Mantelpiece (1881–83). American neoclassical marbles of the mid-nineteenth century returned to the courtyard, displayed in a distinct group between a new seating area and the Branch Bank façade.

Balcony Galleries

The American Wing's outstanding collections of ceramics, glass, silver, and pewter are installed in the balcony galleries in an integrated chronological sequence, beginning with the colonial period on the east side and continuing into the twentieth century on the west, overlooking Central Park. Individual cases are arranged by medium or theme. Among the highlights of the silver display are works by such familiar names as Paul Revere, Jr., and Tiffany & Company. A newly constructed mezzanine-level balcony is devoted almost entirely to the display of a major recent acquisition—250 superb examples of American art pottery crafted between 1876 and 1956, a promised gift of Robert A. Ellison Jr.—that was never before accessible to the public. Stained-glass windows of the Arts and Crafts period by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), William Gray Purcell (1880–1965) and George Grant Elmslie (1869–1952), and George Washington Maher (1864–1926) that incorporate large amounts of clear glass are installed nearby, with Central Park visible through them.

Additional stunning examples of mid-nineteenth-century ecclesiastical stained-glass windows, installed on the upper balcony to allow for close examination by visitors, are visible from the courtyard, approximating their original vantage points. Work by every major designer of American stained glass is represented in this display, the most comprehensive presentation in any American museum.

In all, nearly one thousand works of art are exhibited, including two new cases devoted entirely to American jewelry, ranging from early eighteenth-century mourning rings to surprising works of the Arts and Crafts period. From the courtyard below, the new glass-fronted balconies reveal a panoply of color, form, and brilliance.

Period Rooms

The American Wing's twenty period rooms—nineteen of which returned to view last spring—provide an unparalleled view of American domestic architecture and interior design over three centuries. Twelve rooms, dating from 1680 to 1810, have been newly renovated. With the renovation of the period rooms, visitors are able to take a complete tour of American interiors and decorative arts in chronological sequence, from the seventeenth century (the Hart Room, 1680) to the twentieth century (the Frank Lloyd Wright Room, 1912–14). A new glass elevator carries visitors directly to the third floor, where the earliest rooms are located.

The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery

Located within The American Wing, The Erving and Joyce Wolf Gallery is one of some twenty spaces at the Museum specifically designed to accommodate special exhibitions. As part of the second phase of the wing's renovations, new wood floors and new lighting were installed in the space. The first exhibition to be housed in the renovated gallery was "Augustus Saint-Gaudens."