The Museum's Main Building at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street has practically been under construction since it was first completed in 1880. Growing and changing to accommodate the ever-expanding collection and visitor base, the building has been shaped by each director's initiatives, all with an eye toward accommodating future needs and demands. Wings have been added, galleries have been reconfigured, spaces have been renovated and changed time and time again, and some are wholly unrecognizable from their earliest days. In order to accommodate the collection, the Museum strives to create the perfect atmosphere for its artworks; curators strive to convey time and place, history and subtext—maintaining a great sensitivity to the past, but remaining firmly steeped in the present.
Heber Reginald Bishop donated his famed jade collection to the Museum in 1902, when he realized that his collection "was too important and valuable to remain in private hands, [and] that it should be accessible to the public in a fireproof building" (American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 5, No. 1, Jan.–Mar. 1903). Mr. Bishop was a renowned collector of anthropological objects, and donated objects not only to the Metropolitan Museum, but also to the American Museum of Natural History; one of his most notable gifts to the AMNH is the great Haida canoe, which hangs in that museum's Grand Gallery. At the time, Mr. Bishop's collection of jade objects was considered "the world's leading collection of Ch'ing [sic] dynasty decorative jades . . . [including] a number of jades from India, Siberia, Europe, and North and South America, implements from the Pacific islands, and purely mineralogical specimens" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 32, No. 12, Dec. 1937).
When Mr. Bishop announced his gift to the Museum, his wish was that the collection be presented to the public just as it was in his home—which would include magnificent cases by the Parisian firm of Allard & Co. and an exact reproduction of the Louis XV room that served as his ballroom. The room came to be known as "Bishop Hall," and was installed in what is now Gallery 206. Selections from the Bishop jade collection can currently be seen in gallery 222.
In 1881 the Museum recognized the need to devote space to a library specifically for reference books related to the exhibition program and those used by the director and curators. At that time, the library contained "sixty-four bound, and one hundred and thirty-two unbound books and pamphlets" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 5, No. 8, Aug. 1910). This library was intended expressly for visitors to the Museum. By 1888 the library had become a room "on the second floor of the then recently erected southern extension of the Museum. It was provided with shelf-room for (it was estimated) 10,000 volumes, and reading tables that at a pinch accommodated ten or a dozen readers" (Ibid.).
Thirty years later these accommodations were no longer deemed adequate, despite having overflowed into the adjoining Board Room. An annex designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White was built on the south side of the Museum in 1910, the exterior of which was in the style of the Italian Renaissance and the interior in a style reminiscent of classical Rome. This extension was labeled Wing G, and was exclusively for the library. The new space was home to nineteen thousand volumes and twenty-eight thousand photographs, but was estimated to hold approximately forty thousand volumes and approximately fifty thousand photographs. All subjects related to art and art history were represented, including: alphabets and monograms, numismatics, decoration and ornament, bookbinding, philology, and the useful arts. The library would serve the purposes of the Museum for fifty-four years.
In 1906, when the Museum's Astor and Stuart Collection of Laces was moved from Gallery 29 to Galleries 33–34, the Museum used the opportunity to not only reinstall, but also reorganize the works. This new, wide-ranging collection displayed 1,551 pieces of linen work and lace—more than eighty-five percent of the Museum's collection at the time. The display included examples of Coptic network from the early Christian era through the Renaissance period, which showcased "the highest perfection of the art in the Venice points." The collection was arranged by overarching classification and type: net, drawnwork, cutwork, Venice points, "the Points de France of the seventeenth century, and the bobbin-laces of Flanders . . ." (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 7, Jun. 1906; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 3, No. 2, Feb. 1908).
In the report of the Trustees for the year 1930, the installation of the collection of H.O. Havemeyer was noted as one of the most important events of the past year. The collection was hailed as "one of the most generous and discriminating donations ever made to the Museum" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 3, Mar. 1930). The substantial collection was composed of European paintings, pastels, and drawings (including works by El Greco, Corot, Degas, and Daumier); European and American prints (including works by Rembrandt and Degas); European and Near Eastern decorative arts; Chinese and Japanese painting (including scroll paintings and screens) and decorative arts; Japanese swords and sword furniture; Classical Greek and Roman art; and Egyptian art.
The temporary display of the collection, so that it could be seen in its entirety before being distributed throughout the departmental galleries, was made possible "by the generous provision of Mrs. Havemeyer's will" (The Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, No. 61, 1930). Remarkably, Louisine W. Havemeyer's only restriction upon the gift of the collection was that "all the objects received under it should 'be known as the H. O. Havemeyer Collection,' and that they should be on 'permanent exhibition'" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 25, No. 3, Mar. 1930). The collection was temporarily partially mounted in Wing A, Galleries 22–23, in the original building designed by Calvert Vaux, which is now gallery 305, the Medieval Sculpture Hall. These balcony galleries overlooked the Museum's collection of reproductions of masterworks, cast in plaster.