Exhibitions/ The Making of a Collection

The Making of a Collection: Islamic Art at the Metropolitan

At The Met Fifth Avenue
November 1, 2011–February 5, 2012
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Exhibition Overview

The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses one of the largest, most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. This could not have been achieved without the generosity of dedicated individuals who supported the Museum with gifts and bequests. This exhibition is a chronological study of some of the Museum's major donor-collectors, whose gifts form the core of the collection of the Department of Islamic Art, illuminating the factors and motivations that inspired their collecting habits.

Particular attention is paid to the early collectors during the first decades of Islamic art collecting in America, a period when as much as fifty percent of the Department's collection was established. From the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the early 1930s, objects from the Islamic world were introduced to the American market as exotic treasures and gradually gained public recognition. The interest in travel to the Middle East that had earlier spawned a vast travel literature in Europe caught on in America as well. It was the time of the Orientalist movement. At international expositions, governments of the Near East erected pavilions in which imported objects and parts of buildings where shown and, afterward, sold to Americans. Oriental art dealers played a critical role: as tastemakers for Islamic art, they acted as intermediaries between governments, American collectors, and museums.

Since then, the Metropolitan's collection has continued to grow and, as in the past, generous donors continue to support its acquisitions. Today, the collection comprises approximately twelve thousand objects, of which—in conjunction with the reopening of the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia—twelve hundred are now on view.

The exhibition is made possible by The Hagop Kevorkian Fund.

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Edward C. Moore was the eldest son of a renowned family of silversmiths, who established themselves in New York in the late 1830s and in 1846 began selling their work to Tiffany & Co. From 1851 on, the Moore firm became exclusive suppliers to Tiffany. It is believed that around the same time Edward succeeded his father John C. Moore (ca. 1802–1874). In 1868 Tiffany & Co. purchased Moore's firm, and Edward became manager and, ultimately, artistic director of Tiffany's silver manufacturing and chief designer.

Little is known about Moore. He appears not to have spoken or written about his work. His silverware reminds us, however, of his ingenious artistry and talent, which made him without doubt the foremost silversmith in America in the last half of the nineteenth century. The arts of the Near East and Far East played a key role in his career: they helped him to forge his own style, which after 1870 was largely inspired by Japanese and Islamic art.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, artworks from the Orient were appearing first in Europe and later in America. As an artist always looking for new sources of inspiration, Edward C. Moore became one of the first to comprehend the real value of these treasures. Hence in the 1860s and 1870s he started collecting these exotic objects and became a pioneer collector of Islamic art in America. His collection was the first notable one to enter the Met. Among more than two thousand objects in his bequests of 1891 and 1908, about four hundred were from the Islamic world.They comprised ceramics, glass, and metalwork, and also some outstanding jewelry, embroidery, papier-mâché, and wood. Moore's comprehensive collection was formed as an adjunct to his profession, and its main purpose was to provide him and his designers with artistic and technical ideas. Thence he introduced new motifs, forms, and techniques to American silverware.

Moore developed a particular interest in Islamic metalwork and collected many examples from medieval Egypt, Syria, and Iran. He was looking for new motifs, forms, and techniques he could apply to his own silver creations. Moore's early work of the 1850s and early 1860s showed clarity of form and design following Western European examples. After the Civil War he developed his own style and began designing silverware based on various exotic sources, including Near Eastern and Far Eastern arts.

John Pierpont Morgan was an American banker who dominated corporate finance and industrial consolidation. At the instigation of his father Junius Spencer Morgan (1813–1890), Pierpont received a varied education in America, Switzerland, and Germany, and was well prepared for a career in international banking, which he started as a young man in 1857. Based in London and New York, the Morgans worked together for about thirty years and transferred capital from Europe to the emerging American economy. They concentrated primarily on the railroad industry. After the death of his father John Pierpont organized extensive industrial operations with American capital. He was one of the richest and most powerful men of his time, but also a passionate philanthropist and a voracious art collector. He also played a supportive and influential role at the Met, first as a trustee (1888–1904) and later as its president (1904–1913). Under his leadership the Museum launched an ambitious acquisition program.

During the last two decades of his life Morgan spent about two-thirds of his estate (some $900 million today), on art. In following the motto "No price is too high for an object of unquestioned beauty and known authenticity," he acquired artworks numbering in the thousands, in a wide range of media, and built a massive and encyclopedic art collection that included Islamic art. He was particularly attracted by manuscripts and printed books. These never left his library, which since 1924 has formed the basis of The Morgan Library & Museum. At his death, his son J.P. Morgan Jr. donated large parts of the collection—aside from the materials in the library—to the Met. Among the Islamic objects are Ottoman tile panels, carpets, and enameled glass, most of which are of high quality and in excellent condition.

James F. Ballard was a self-starter who had made his fortune from scratch in the manufacture and wholesale of drugs and chemicals. Born in Ohio in 1851, he received only an elementary school education in Michigan before going to work in a drugstore as a small boy. He moved to St. Louis, where at the age of twenty-three he joined a wholesale drug company, and within ten years branched out into business for himself and prospered.

Ballard was an adventurer by nature. He liked to explore, and traveled around the world. At the age of seventy-nine he died from filariasis, a parasitical and infectious tropical disease he had contracted two years earlier during his travels. He was one of the first internationally renowned carpet collectors in the United States and a major donor to the Met.

Ballard's passion for rugs started when he was fifty-five. In 1905 on a business trip to New York, he was suddenly attracted by an Oriental carpet he saw in a shop window on Fourth Avenue (Park Avenue South). Its exquisite design and palette of pale green with threads of burning red fascinated him and led to his first purchase of an Oriental carpet— for $500. This was the start of a great collecting story. For the next twenty years, Ballard traveled thousands of miles in the Near East and particularly in Turkey, where, in the bazaars of Istanbul, he bargained for most of the carpets. He spent millions of dollars, collecting more than four hundred examples, including some particularly rare and beautiful pieces that he spent years tracking. The Ballard collection covers five hundred years of carpet history and represents the various manufacturing centers in Anatolia, Egypt, the Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and western China.

In 1922, Ballard gave the Met 126 rugs from his collection. This donation formed the backbone (almost one quarter) of the Museum's present collection. Ballard expressly indicated that the Met should choose the carpets that would enter its collection, which led to its standing as one of the most comprehensive rug collections in the world.

Alexander Smith Cochran was the heir and principal owner of the Alexander Smith & Sons carpet mills of Yonkers, New York, which by the time of his death in 1929 was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman and engaged philanthropist, who as a young man had demonstrated a particular interest in literature. Cochran graduated from Yale University in 1896, where he had regretted the lack of a congenial atmosphere in which to discuss literature and the arts with classmates and faculty. In the last fifteen years of his life Cochran suffered from tuberculosis and divided his time between cruising and vacationing. Nevertheless, he continued to take an interest in various philanthropies. In 1911, he founded Yale's Elizabethan Club, purchasing a clubhouse, providing the club with an endowment of $100,000, and donating a substantial collection of rare Elizabethan and Jacobean books. He was also an art collector who supported the Met with various gifts.

A lover of literature, Cochran collected books and other works on paper, as well as seventeenth- to eighteenth-century European tapestries and furniture, which he gave the Museum in 1911. He was particularly fond of Persian manuscripts. This rather uncommon interest for the time is explained by his friendship with A. V. Williams Jackson, a scholar and professor of Persian literature at Columbia University, who guided Cochran through the Middle East. In 1907 they traveled together to Iran. Jackson also prepared the catalogue of manuscripts that Cochran donated to the Met in 1913. The gift contained twenty-four mainly Persian manuscripts, thirty single-page paintings, and one bookbinding. The Museum's collection, which until then included few Persian codices, was suddenly enriched with examples of various periods, handsomely illuminated or adorned with beautiful paintings. Among these gifts were two sixteenth-century Khamsas (Quintets), each a masterpiece: one of Nizami composed in Safavid Herat; the other of Amir Khusrau Dihlavi at the Mughal court in India.

Joseph V. McMullan was a person with a variety of interests and skills. Even though he had only a high-school education, his creativity and intelligence brought him great success. After graduating in 1915 from Stuyvesant High School, New York, McMullan entered the field of engineering. In 1924 he joined the Naylor Company as a designer of hydraulic dredges. The United States Government commissioned him to design an easily assembled portable pipeline to speed the advance of Allied armies in the North African campaign of World War II. After his retirement, he served on the board of the Naylor Pipe Company of Chicago. In addition to his business acumen, McMullan was known for being an authority on Islamic carpets, which he studied and collected throughout his adult life.

After James Ballard's bequest, the second important source of the Met's renowned carpet collection is Joseph V. McMullan's gift of approximately 120 carpets and textiles, which entered the Museum in 1973. His relationship with Oriental carpets can be traced back to his early childhood in the Bronx, where they decorated the family house. He once recalled, "I played marbles and hopscotch on them. The pattern was entirely geometrical—easy to set up goals on." His interest in rugs developed when one day in his early thirties his sister asked him to attend a sale of Oriental rugs and to purchase a room-sized rug for their mother's home in the Bronx, which prompted his serious study and collection of carpets. McMullan also lectured and in 1965 published an extensive catalogue of his collection, which originally contained more than two hundred rugs spanning four hundred years of production.

Henry Osborne Havemeyer—known as Harry—was born into a wealthy family and became a powerful American entrepreneur. After having inherited from his father a thriving sugar refinery business established in 1807 in New York, he expanded its entities with assistance from his brother Theodore Havemeyer. In 1891 he founded the American Sugar Refining Company and was chosen as its president. His companies controlled sugar refining in the United States at the time of his death. Havemeyer had a strong personality and enjoyed leadership and control. He was also president of the Long Island Railroad (from 1875 to 1876) as well as the American Coffee Company. Harry divorced his first wife, Mary Louise Elder, and married her niece Louisine Elder in 1883. He and his second wife had three children: Adaline, Horace, and Electra. The Havemeyers have become known as two generations of great art collectors who figure among the major donors to the Met.

The Havemeyer collection gift remains one of the most noteworthy in the Metropolitan. It enriches nearly every department of the Museum. Of more than 4,500 artworks they gave, 150 are Islamic. Their collecting taste followed an avant-garde path. Aside from Old Master paintings, in the 1870s they began buying then-unappreciated Impressionist works, as well as Far Eastern art. Probably in the 1880s, Harry developed an interest in Islamic art. He was later followed by Louisine and their son Horace. Key figures who might have inspired the Havemeyers in this direction were Edward C. Moore, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and landscape artist Samuel Colman, who were all designers inspired by Oriental art and working for Henry and Louisine. (When Harry married Louisine, he commissioned Moore to design a silver flatware service for her. This service was made in Moore's Japanese style and shows the Havemeyers' taste and interest in exotic design.) Although the Havemeyers liked to travel and meet contemporary artists in Europe, they relied on intermediaries when collecting Islamic art. Their strong collection of ceramics from Raqqa in Syria and Kashan in Iran was mainly built upon the advice of Dikran Kelekian, a dealer, consultant, and friend.

Kelekian was an Armenian art dealer from Kayseri, Turkey, who had established galleries in New York City (ca. 1895), Paris, and Cairo. He was one of the key figures in Islamic art collecting in America and Europe, and very influential among his clientele. Kelekian originally came to the United States for the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago (1893). Here he met the American painter Mary Cassatt. They became lifelong friends. Mary introduced Dikran to American collectors, among them her close friend Louisine Havemeyer.

By the end of the 1880s the Havemeyer family had three children, and their art collection had significantly increased. Hence they decided to leave their first residence—a modest brownstone townhouse at 34 East 36th Street, across the street from their affluent neighbor J. Pierpont Morgan—and moved north to 1 East 66th Street at Fifth Avenue, where by 1890 the construction of the Havemeyer residence in the Romanesque Revival style had begun.

If the Havemeyer house was in a conservative style on the outside, its inside was a real experiment in the realm of interior decoration. It was designed by Tiffany and Colman, who were both vividly inspired by the arts of the Far East and the Islamic world, which they incorporated in their style and also collected. It was Colman who motivated Harry to purchase Japanese art for the first time during his visit to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Hence the rooms were made with a profusion of patterns, unusual materials, a preference for exotic motifs with an Indian, Islamic, or Japanese taste, and a concern for the display of the collections of "decorative" objects.

Cora Timken Burnett was an heiress to the vast Timken ball-bearing manufacturing fortune. She was an ardent painter, sculptor, and antique collector, and was married to the famous osteopath and scientist Dr. John Clawson Burnett. The couple lived for twenty-five years on a fifty-five-acre estate in Alpine, New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River. Cora designed all of the buildings, crafting them to fit the contours of the stone-swept landscape: their residence; a dining hall; a copper-roofed laboratory for her husband; for herself a pair of "igloo"-like studios; and other buildings. The larger buildings had curved corner columns with large stones set around the flared bases, giving the appearance of "elephant's feet." There was also a swimming pool lined with rocks and shaped like a coiled serpent. Toward the end of the Burnetts' lives, their idyllic estate began to be menaced by the Palisades Interstate Parkway, but only after their deaths did the State of New Jersey take over and raze their home.

Cora Timken Burnett was a collector who was particularly drawn to art from Persia, India, and China. When purchasing art, she often relied on the advice of dealers, such as her close friend Hagop Kevorkian, who was one of her main suppliers. Her husband shared with Cora this interest and passion for Asian art. Together they traveled to these distant lands and often returned with precious sculptures and objects, including a Hindu temple imported from India, which they used to decorate the buildings and landscape of their estate. From the time Burnett began collecting when she was in her forties, she developed a close relationship with the Museum and became a generous donor. In addition to her various gifts to the Met, Cora Timken Burnett's 1956 bequest included a selection of Indian sculptures, her entire collection of Persian miniatures, and other Persian objects.

Arthur A. Houghton was born into a prominent New England and Upstate New York family, which had founded Corning Glass Works in 1851. After graduating from Harvard University in 1929, he joined the family business. In 1933 Houghton became president of the company's subsidiary division, Steuben Glass, and transformed it into a firm of international repute, known for its modern design and incorporation of Art Deco and modernist themes into glass. A member of more than one hundred organizations dedicated to art, culture, and education, Houghton was on the board of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society, where he acted as chairman (1958–1963) and was involved in the creation of the Lincoln Center (1963). Moreover, Houghton was an influential figure at the Met. He served as a trustee on the Museum's board (1952–1974). During his tenure as board president (1964–1969), the Museum's administration and curatorial system was modernized. From 1969 to 1972, Houghton acted as chairman and was responsible for the Museum's centennial celebration in 1970.

Arthur A. Houghton Jr. was also a renowned collector of rare books and letters. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he developed an interest in English literature, and after his graduation in 1929 he started his collecting career. His interest prompted him to become a curator of rare books, first at the Federal Library, and later at the Library of Congress in Washington. Among his collection highlights are his Keats collection of English Romantic poetry, of which he owned one of the largest in the world, and the famous Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Shah Tahmasp, Safavid ruler of Iran (r. 1524–76) and a great patron of art. This book is arguably the most luxuriously illustrated copy of Firdausi's epic ever produced in the history of Persian painting. Houghton acquired it from Baron Edmund de Rothschild in 1959. In 1970 he donated to the Museum seventy-six folios of what today can be considered "the Picassos" of this class of Islamic painting.

Marshall and Marilyn Wolf, originally from Chicago, came to New York in the late 1970s. This was the second New York residency for Marshall, who had earlier moved to Brooklyn Heights to pursue graduate studies in business and finance. In 1959 he went into the investment business for himself. The Wolfs are fervent travelers and share a passion for collecting, focusing on early Islamic carpets and textiles as well as Turkmen jewelry. Marshall and Marilyn Wolf also are important supporters of the Museum. Since the 1990s, they have sponsored research projects and publications at the Met. Among their gifts are splendid textiles and a carpet, and a collection of nearly three hundred pieces of Turkmen jewelry. They exemplify the continuing generosity of collectors to the Museum and their vital role in maintaining the preeminence of the Met's collections.

Collecting became part of the Wolfs' lives when they were in their late twenties. Marshall relates that when he came to New York as a student he bought his first Oriental carpet to avoid walking barefoot on the cold floor of his apartment, only to learn later that it was not woven in the Near East but machine-made in the United States. Very quickly he became interested in authentic, handmade carpets. Together the Wolfs have been collecting Islamic weavings and embroideries for more than forty years. Today their carpet collection is one of the most important and extensive in private hands. By the 1990s the couple had started collecting Turkmen jewelry. Whenever they decide to acquire or "hunt for" a carpet or Turkmen jewelry, it is its expressive beauty and strength that attracts them first. Regardless of rarity or age, what they find visually pleasing enters in their collection. The Wolfs are familiar figures at major auctions and visit dealers in various countries, particularly Turkey and Central Asia.

Related article: "Featured Publication—Turkmen Jewelry: Silver Ornaments from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection" (Now at the Met, October 17, 2011)

Hagop Kevorkian was an Armenian archaeologist, connoisseur of art, and collector. Originally from Kayseri, Turkey, he graduated from the renowned American-founded Robert College in Istanbul and settled in New York in the late nineteenth century. Very quickly Hagop became a key tastemaker for Islamic art and an intermediary between Middle Eastern governments, clients, and museums. He was one of the early archaeologists and directed several excavations, among them such important ones as those of Sultanabad and Rayy in Iran. Hence he introduced to the markets objects imported from Turkey, Iran, and other countries. In 1951, he created The Kevorkian Foundation, which became one of the most important supporters for Middle Eastern studies in New York. His foundation established the Kevorkian Chair of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, several professorships, and the Hagop Kevorkian Center of Near Eastern Studies at New York University.

Hagop Kevorkian was mainly interested in antique and Islamic art of the Near East. He collected art not only for his clients such as J. P. Morgan, Cora Timken Burnett, and others but also for himself and the Met, of which he was an important supporter. Hagop was particularly drawn to painting, and at the time of his death, "the Kevorkian Collection" was the last comprehensive collection of first-class Islamic painting to come on the market.

From the time of his arrival in New York, Kevorkian formed a close relationship with the Met, exhibiting objects at the Museum and making regular gifts. The Kevorkian Foundation became an important source of support for the Department of Islamic Art. Thanks to the Kevorkian Foundation, fellowships, employees, publications, and acquisitions have all been generously funded; room installations such as the Damascus Room (1976) were made possible; and the current gallery for special exhibitions (Gallery 458) was founded.

Among the treasures associated with Hagop Kevorkian, given to the Museum are forty-one leaves of the Mughal "Emperor's Album," made for Jahangir and Shah Jahan. It is one of the world's great assemblages of Mughal calligraphy and painting, which Kevorkian acquired at auction in 1929. The rosette (shamsa) bears the name and titles of Emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707), showing that it was a later addition to the album assemblage.