Curator Helen Evans previews the exhibition The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions, which opens October 24, 2008.
Helen Evans: I'm Helen Evans and I have the honor of serving as the curator coordinating the special exhibition that The Metropolitan Museum of Art will open on October 24, 2008, in honor of Philippe de Montebello.
The show is the curators' salute to one aspect of his many accomplishments as director—his acquisitions—and, by extension, to many more aspects of his career. The exhibition's signature image is the magnificent self-portrait of the painter Peter Paul Rubens with his family. It was a generous gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman to the Museum early in Philippe's career as director and represents the standard he has inspired us to seek in all of our major acquisitions.
As you know, Philippe is stepping down this year after thirty-one years as director and additional years as curator and vice director. When he made his announcement to the staff, we immediately stood up and gave him a nearly ten-minute spontaneous standing ovation. In that spirit, the Museum's Forum of Curators, Conservators, and Scientists quickly brought forward the idea that we should recognize the importance of Philippe's tenure with an exhibition focusing on an area where we know him most—the process of acquiring works of art. That exhibition will be called The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions.
All of the Museum's curatorial departments carefully selected works for the exhibition. The curatorial Director's Council offered their suggestions. The forum's members submitted their ideas as to the most transformative works that the Museum has acquired during Philippe's tenure.
This was not easy, because we have acquired more than eighty-four thousand works in his time here, so our department heads had to reduce their number to what could be accommodated in the Museum's largest special exhibition space, the Tisch Galleries. And, of course, Philippe recognized a few favorites that we all would want included, especially the Duccio.
The final selection represents the breadth of the Museum's encyclopedic collections, extending across time, from a striding horned demon of the ancient world to the invention of modern photography and exciting high fashion; from the incredibly imposing portrait of America's Elijah Boardman of the eighteenth century to the equally imposing image of an Asian standing Buddha, a work that Philippe was intimately involved in acquiring; and from a wonderfully dramatic and compelling twelfth-century medieval European view of the end of the world to Africa's nineteenth-century equally compelling power figure.
Philippe de Montebello has said that there could be no greater compliment than to have one's curators seek to celebrate one's efforts. We can only hope that he will be as happy with our results as he was in 1986, when Segovia gave him a concert before dedicating the instrument he was playing to the Museum.
Do come next fall and see our tribute to Philippe—highlights of thirty years of the Museum's acquisitions, presented in new and often thought-provoking juxtapositions.
The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions will be on view at the Museum from October 24, 2008, through February 1, 2009. This is Helen Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
This has been an Antenna Audio production.
Philippe de Montebello examining the Madonna and Child, ca. 1300, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, which was acquired in 2004.
Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640). Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment (1614–1673), and Their Son Peter Paul (born 1637), probably late 1630s. Oil on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, in honor of Sir John Pope-Hennessy, 1981 (1981.238)
Ritual figure: statuette, kneeling man, royal ancestor, 380–246 B.C. Egyptian. Late Period or Early Ptolemaic Period. Wood, formerly clad with lead sheet. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Anne and John V. Hansen Egyptian Purchase Fund, and Magda Saleh and Jack Josephson Gift, 2003 (2003.154)
Divan of Hafiz: Allegory of worldly and otherworldly drunkenness, ca. 1526–27. Safavid period, Shah Tahmasp. Illustrated manuscript, folio. Opaque watercolor, ink and gold on paper. Promised Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stuart Cary Welch Jr., Partially owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University, 1988 (1988.430)
Drouar, possibly André Drouart (French, Paris). Armor of Infante Luis, Prince of Asturias, 1712. Steel, gilt brass, fabric. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Armand Hammer Gift, 1989 (1989.3)
Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903). Tahitian Faces (Frontal View and Profiles), ca. 1899. Charcoal on laid paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1996 (1996.418)
Support for a water basin, second century A.D. Roman, Imperial. Porphyry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1992 (1992.11.70)
Giovanni Battista Foggini (Italian, 1652–1725). Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici (1663–1713), ca. 1683–85. Marble; base of gray marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1993 (1993.332.2)
Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, active by 1278, died 1318). Madonna and Child, ca. 1300. Tempera and gold on wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Rogers Fund, Walter and Leonore Annenberg and The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, Annette de la Renta Gift, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, Louis V. Bell, and Dodge Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, Elaine L. Rosenberg and Stephenson Family Foundation Gifts, 2003 Benefit Fund, and other gifts and funds from various donors, 2004 (2004.440)
Striding horned demon, ca. 3000 B.C. Mesopotamia or Iran. Proto-Elamite period. Arsenical copper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 2007 (2007.280)
Onesipe Aguado (French, 1827–1894). [Woman Seen from the Back], ca. 1862. Salted paper print from glass negative. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2005 (2005.1001.1)
Paul Poiret (French, 1879–1944). Coat, 1919. Paris. Silk, wool, metallic thread. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of The Costume Institute Gifts, 2005 (2005.207)
Ralph Earl (American, 1751–1801). Elijah Boardman, 1789. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Bequest of Susan W. Tyler, 1979 (1979.395)
Standing Buddha, 5th century. India (Uttar Pradesh, Mathura). Gupta period. Mottled red sandstone. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Enid A. Haupt Gift, 1979 (1979.6)
Manuscript leaf, ca. 1180. Spanish (Castile). Romanesque. Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, metal leaf. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Rogers and Harris Brisbane Dick Funds, and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1991 (1991.232.10)
Power figure: Nkisi N'Kondi, second half of 19th century. Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola; Kongo. Wood, metal resin, shell. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Laura and James J. Ross, Daniel and Marion Malcolm, Robert T. Wall, Jeffrey B. Soref, Sidney and Bernice Clyman, and Steven M. Kossak Gifts, 2008 (2008.30)
Hermann Hauser (German, 1882–1952). Guitar, 1937. Wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Emilita Segovia, Marquesa of Salobreña, 1986 (1986.353.1)
Philippe de Montebello in the galleries with Andrés Segovia on the occasion of three of Segovia's guitars being donated to the Metropolitan Museum. Photograph 1986 © Richard Lombard
Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889. Oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, 1993 (1993.132)