"The people love art, the people know art, the people buy art, the people live with their art," wrote Louisine Havemeyer of the French. She might well have been describing herself and her husband, Henry Osborne Havemeyer. Pioneering American patrons of art at the turn of the nineteenth century, the Havemeyers assembled an extraordinary collection, a large part of which was given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Mrs. Havemeyer's monumental bequest in 1929, to join gifts made while they were alive; a number of important pieces remained in private hands or were given to other institutions. This volume, which accompanies an exhibition at the Metropolitan that brings together many of these works, takes as its primary subject the splendid collection formed by the Havemeyers.
A legendary assemblage, the Havemeyer collection is famous for its unparalleled groupings of works by Corot, Courbet, and Manet, its great Monets and Cézannes, and its many paintings, pastels, drawings, and bronzes by Degas. But the real depth and the encyclopedic range of this legacy are not well known, because part of it is dispersed throughout the Metropolitan and part dispersed throughout the world. Few know, for example, that the collection encompassed Rembrandts and El Grecos as well as works by other old masters. The Havemeyers were not only the premier American patrons of late nineteenth-century French painting—Mrs. Havemeyer was perhaps the first American to buy a Monet—but also pathbreaking collectors in such uncharted fields as Spanish painting, for which they created a demand and established a taste among their contemporaries. Few know that Mr. and Mrs. Havemeyer's collecting zeal extended beyond European painting to embrace Asian art, an area in which their taste was extremely broad, as well as decorative arts, a realm in which they cast a wide net over different cultures, periods, and media. Thus their splendid legacy enriched almost every department of the Metropolitan and was sufficient to "furnish a museum in itself," as an early director of the institution remarked. The twenty-seven experts who have collaborated on this volume examine the myriad aspects of the Havemeyer collection in summarizing essays and in entries on individual works. In the various sections of the book, the authors discuss the Havemeyer pictures; their forgotten legacy of decorative arts; the other Havemeyer passion, Asian art; and the extraordinary Manhattan residence designed by Tiffany and Colman to accommodate the Havemeyers and their fabulous possessions. An exhaustive chronology offers an illuminating perspective on the formation of the collection, detailing the roles of friend and advisor Mary Cassatt and a succession of dealers and outlining family and business history to provide a human dimension and a social context. The Appendix, an illustrated checklist with provenances for all the known Western paintings, watercolors, pastels, and drawings owned by the Havemeyers, is an invaluable resource for scholars. Period photographs supplement the many reproductions of works of art in the Havemeyer and other collections. A selected bibliography and an exhibitions list are included. A definitive collection catalogue designed for scholar and amateur alike, this volume holds up a mirror to the last decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, when great fortunes were made and great quantities of art were available to those with means. It sheds new light on works of art that another great collector, Albert C. Barnes, once called "the best and wisest collection in America."