The Met's world-famed collection of European paintings encompasses works of art from the 13th through the 19th centuries—from Giotto to Gauguin. Most, though not all, are displayed in the galleries of the Department of European Paintings. Others works of art can be found in the Lehman Collection, the Linsky Collection, The Met Cloisters, and in various period rooms. Apart from its many individual masterpieces by artists as diverse as Jan van Eyck, Caravaggio, and Seurat, the Museum possesses the most extensive collection of 17th-century Dutch art in the western hemisphere, including outstanding works by Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and Vermeer. Its holdings of El Greco and Goya are the finest outside of Spain, while the survey it offers of French painting between neo-Classicism and post-Impressionism is second only to Paris, with extensive holdings of the work of Corot, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, and Van Gogh.
The collection traces its origins back to the founding of the Museum in 1870, when 174 paintings were acquired from three private sources in Europe. Since then, it has been enriched by numerous donations and bequests. In recent years curatorial purchases and gifts have enabled the department to build up a notable collection of 17th-century Italian painting and to augment its great holdings of Impressionist paintings with a rich survey of plein-air oil sketches. In these ways the collection reflects our constantly evolving ideas about the legacy of the past.