Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once*
The public display of art has been a custom of many civilisations since the dawn of measured time. From sculptured images to stained glass pictures, woven tapestry and canvas paintings the images of Gods, heroes, Kings, Queens, Princes and potentates have all glorified their subjects and told their stories, real or fanciful, with both creativity and imagination. One of the great Museums of the world, The Metropolitan Museum of Art founded in 1880 at New York, has built up its prodigious collections steadily in a number of fields with the support of benefactors, sponsors, supporters, followers and visitors. They reflect the evolution of humankind and exalt the arts, which are as old as civilisation and a joyous celebration of life from antiquity until today.
The Romans in particular displayed political and religious images right throughout their Empire, influencing the tide of history, other cultures and monumental events. The Romans also undertook staggering engineering feats; they removed huge stone obelisks from Egypt, transporting them across the Mediterranean all the way to Rome. In America in the early 1880’s, not to be outdone, New Yorkers had the obelisk of Thutmose III (1481-1425 BC), sixth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, brought there to be erected triumphantly in Central Park, where ever since the atmosphere has not treated it well and has somewhat eroded the clarity of its hieroglyphics.
It was at Paris in 1866 at a patriotic lunch in a fashionable restaurant on the Bois de Boulogne that John Jay (pictured), son of America’s first Chief Justice, announced it was ‘time for the American people to lay the foundations of a National Institution and Gallery of Art’. Some of those present became involved with a committee that would give it birth. In 1869 William Cullen Bryant, a mover and shaker in New York’s literary establishment, proposed a great new Metropolitan Art Museum be established and by 1870 a Board of Trustees had been selected.
Businessmen and financiers as well as a few well-known artists became involved and John Taylor Johnston a railroad man and known passionate collector became President. As there was no Federal Income Tax in New York at the time, money freely flowed from Johnston and his friends and colleagues in businesses that were also wealthy patrons and collectors. The city at the time was recovering from the devastating affects of the civil war and disease, crime and corruption were commonplace and the streets crowded with thousands of homeless people. New York merchants became involved as well because they could see that to back such a project would make good economic sense because it would attract more people nationally and internationally to visit the city stimulating both growth and employment for its residents. They reasoned that what was good for art would also be good for the city.
Their prediction has proved true. The Met has just announced that they welcomed 6.28 million people visitors during the fiscal year ending June 30 2012.
The number is the highest recorded “We are delighted by this extraordinary response to the Met’s collections, exhibitions, and programs over the past year,” said Thomas P. Campbell, the Metropolitan Museum’s Director and CEO. “…Attendance at our exhibitions, which covered a broad spectrum of topics traversing centuries and geographic areas, was also strong throughout the year. The growth of our audience—frequent as well as first-time visitors from around the world—once again demonstrates that The Met is a truly global museum for this truly global city.”
The first collection of paintings acquired, 174 pictures, a private collection that had been assembled when the boom for Old Master paintings had begun some years earlier. The quality and subject matter of the mostly Dutch and Flemish paintings caused Johnston to write ‘the quality of the collection as a whole is superior to anything I had dared to hope’ and that he was ‘simply delighted’.
By 1873 the museum was forced to move because it needed bigger premises to accommodate its fast-growing variety of works of art, including a shipment of some 6000 ancient sculptures the President purchased from the American Consul to Cyprus, where antiquities were being unearthed at an unprecedented rate.
This was as a direct result of treasure hunters digging about in the soil at Rome back in the Renaissance period in Europe and had grown slowly. The success of Grand Tourists to Italy and Europe during the eighteenth century, and the Egyptian campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte in the early nineteenth century had whipped people into a frenzy of interest in all things antique.
The Consul to Cyprus General Luigi Palma di Cesnola would later be appointed the Museum’s first paid director, although many of those works he purchased would later turn out to be of poor quality.
The one exception is the fabulous frescoes that he purchased in 1903 from Italy. They had once adorned a Roman Villa, which had been completed c.50 BC at Boscoreale. Like Pompeii it had been destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
The villa of P Fannius Sinistor was designed as a summer retreat and exploited spectacular views of the Bay of Naples.
The frescoes in its cubiculum or bedroom recalled an extraordinary period of luxurious leisure in Roman society not long before it all came crashing down and buried by the sands of time.
The Museum was responsible for also creating a precedent that would reverberate in other museums and societies around the world especially with its Christian trustees.
In 1891 they opened their doors on the Sabbath day, allowing artisans and workers to visit on what was their only day of holiday in the working week. The results were amazing as funds doubled to cover added costs. With new patrons flocking to assist, this allowed their burgeoning collections to grow even more quickly.
One single benefactor, a Locomotive manufacturer Jacob S. Rogers left five million dollars in his will in 1901 for the ‘purchase of rare and desirable art objects and books for the library’.
His generosity ensured The Metropolitan Museum of Art became the richest museum in the then known world, inspiring even more great donations and benefaction.
New departments were established and organised and when J.P. Morgan, the renowned financier became President when Cesnola died in November 1904, a whole new era began.
This is when The Met, as it was now affectionately known, began to build its professional staff, aided by the Roger’s fund to make significant purchases. Goals were set and aims achieved with administration systems, cataloguing systems for the collections and systematic photography evidence put in place.
Scholarly and popular lectures were also introduced as part of a campaign to produce an educated audience, whose growing appreciation for all the different aspects of the museum’s collections would drive a continuing and growing supply of both people and funds.
J.P. Morgan’s own purchases showcased the Middle Ages, including illuminated manuscripts, gold and jewels. By the time he died in 1913, just prior to World War 1, the Museum trustees had begun to make inroads into collecting ancient Greek and Roman art, while exploring the acquisition of ancient Egyptian works being uncovered rapidly.
This ensured that it was on sound ground for growing its future and the establishment of the ‘Cloisters Museum and Gardens’ in 1938, which is devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe.
The building and its superb cloistered gardens—located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan—are today treasures in themselves and spectacularly located overlooking the Hudson River.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art at New York’s evolving story since fills many volumes and is well beyond the scope of this piece. Suffice to say that the original charter, drawn up on April 13 1870, was reaffirmed and supplemented by the Trustees at the turn of the new millennium.
The mission of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.
September 12, 2000
1Charter of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, State of New York, Laws of 1870, Chapter 197, passed April 13, 1870 and amended L.1898, ch. 34; L. 1908, ch. 219.
Today The Metropolitan Museum of Art at New York’s many departments are structured according to the role they actively play in the enrichment and expansion of New York City life.
For visitors both national and international the collections have a vital part to play in growing an appreciation for every aspect of world culture from Mesopotamian art to an outstanding collection musical instruments and a myriad of marvellous Madonnas.
They also travel about in a cultural exchange with other museums globally that enriches the life of many different peoples and on many layers of levels, continually inspiring imagination, innovation and creativity.
This autumn, or fall, there will be a wonderful selection of exhibitions and installations to view for all those visiting this August city, which fully reveal the diversity of the subject matter the Museum, is able to offer.
Follow our links to find out more.
Chinese Gardens: Palace Pavilions, Scholars’ Studios, Rustic Retreats
August 18, 2012—January 13, 2013
Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years
September 18—December 31, 2012
Bernini: Sculpting in Clay
October 3, 2012—January 6, 2013
Bashford Dean and the Creation of the Arms and Armor Department
October 4, 2012—September 29, 2013
Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop
October 11, 2012—January 27, 2013
Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens
October 30, 2012—January 27, 2013
November 15, 2012—February 18, 2013
African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde
December 4, 2012 – April 14, 2013
Matisse: In Search of True Painting
December 4, 2012—March 17, 2013
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10028-0198
The Cloisters Museum and Gardens
99 Margaret Corbin Drive
Fort Tryon Park
New York, New York 10040
Hours (Main Building)
Tuesday–Thursday: 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday: 9:30 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday: 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Closed Monday (except Holiday Mondays), Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1
Fee includes same-day admission to the Main Building and The Cloisters museum and gardens. There is no extra charge for entrance to exhibitions.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012
The Metropolitan Museum’s website (www.metmuseum.org) had 44 million visits in Fiscal Year 2012. The Museum’s Facebook page now has more than 677,000 fans and its Twitter feed has more than 471,000 followers.
Visitors in Fiscal Year 2012 were drawn in large numbers to the New Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia (opened November 1, 2011) and the New American Wing Galleries for Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts (opened January 19, 2012). As of June 30, 2012, these gallery areas had 593,000 and 365,000 visitors respectively. Exhibition attendance was also particularly strong through June 30 for The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde with 324,000 visitors, The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini (205,000), Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City (179,000), Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations (166,000), and The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis at The Cloisters (97,000).
Last summer’s popular exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty—which closed on August 7, 2011, and had extended hours in its final weeks—drew 662,000 visitors. It contributed to the record attendance in Fiscal Year 2012 during its final five weeks (July 1, 2011, through closing day).
The 6.28 million attendance figures includes nearly 218,000 school visitors who were welcomed by the Museum, nearly 3,200 more than the previous year. Membership has now reached a record-breaking 170,000.
*Actress Audrey Hepburn
Ref: The Metropolitan Museum Announces Attendance Press Release July 16; The Metropolitan Museum of Art Fall Exhibitions Press Release – Howard Hibbard’s landmark publication The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1980 and Statistics from the Communications Department