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Monday, November 20, 2017

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The American Wing Redone by Morrison Heckscher
by Morrison Heckscher

The New American Wing galleries for paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts that opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 16, 2012, comprise twenty-six galleries, encompassing nearly 30,000 square feet on the Wing’s second floor. The first eight, the Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Galleries of Eighteenth-Century American Art, showcase all the decorative and fine arts of the colonial and early Federal periods. The remaining eighteen, the Joan Whitney Payson Galleries, offer the principal display of the museum’s collection of nineteenth and early twentieth-century American paintings, together with important examples of American sculpture. The galleries, with their coved or barrel-vaulted ceilings, skylights, quarter-sawn white oak floors, and Cohare limestone trim, pay contemporary homage to traditional Beaux-Arts museum design.

Rendering of the Charles Englehard Court, The New American Wing. Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, 2008.
Rendering of the Charles Englehard Court, The New American Wing. Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, 2008.

Broadly speaking, the arrangement is by medium and chronology. In the Wang galleries a room of colonial portraits is followed by one devoted to Copley. From there one continues on to a series of other colonial galleries — for rotating decorative arts displays, silver, furniture, the grand hallway from the Van Rensselaer Manor House in Albany, paintings of the Revolutionary War era, and for portrait miniatures. In the Payson galleries, there are rooms devoted to portraiture of the 1790s, of the early nineteenth century, and of the 1880s and 1890s; to life in America, 1830–1860 and 1860–1880; to landscapes of the early and late Hudson River School; to folk art; to the Civil War era; to the West; to Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins; to American Impressionism and women artists; to the Ashcan School. Anchoring the whole, and visible through four galleries on a central axis, is Emanuel Leutze’s iconic Washington Crossing the Delaware.

The new galleries are the third and final phase of a project begun back in 2001, in the aftermath of the American Wing’s Seventy-fifth Anniversary and the Millenium, when it seemed a good time to reassess the museum’s permanent display of American Art. What began as a relatively modest plan to get all the paintings galleries on one level and to rearrange the large stained glass windows in the Charles Engelhard Court evolved into a thorough rethinking of the entire American Wing. Roofs were raised, period rooms relocated, and basements were excavated out of Manhattan schist. There were moments when the timing seemed less than auspicious — the first meeting with the architects was originally scheduled for September 12, 2001, and the fiscal crisis of 2008 nearly derailed construction of the just-completed new galleries.

Rendering of The New American Wing Galleries. Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, 2008.
Rendering of The New American Wing Galleries. Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, 2008.

The original feasibility study was conducted by Jean Parker Phifer, of Thomas Phifer and Partners between 2001 and 2002; in 2003 Kevin Roche, of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, the museum’s long-standing architect and the American Wing’s original designer in 1980, took on the project. From the beginning, the approach was pragmatic: how to show the art to best advantage and how to clarify the visitor experience. In the courtyard, vistas and views of the art were enhanced with glass walls and railings. In the new paintings galleries, it was all about proportions and scale being in tune with the art. In order for the Wing to remain open at all times, the project was phased: the classical galleries, with Thomas Gordon Smith as consulting architect, opened in January 2007; the Charles Engelhard Court and the period rooms in May 2009; and the New American Wing Galleries in January 2012.

Pencil Sketch of the Neoclassical Galleries, The American Wing. Thomas Gordon Smith, 2004.
Pencil Sketch of the Neoclassical Galleries, The American Wing. Thomas Gordon Smith, 2004.

The completed American Wing contains seventy-four public galleries that fall naturally into four distinct clusters: the Charles Engelhard Court; the twenty-five period rooms; the twenty-six new second-floor galleries; and the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art. In a newly published Walking Guide these are described as separate visits, each offering a different take on American Art.

Through a wonderful collaboration of administrators and architects, believers and builders, collectors and curators, designers and donors, trustees and technicians, the museum’s collections of American Art finally have a home worthy of their world-class quality. Special thanks are owed to Tony and Lulu Wang, for their leadership pledge in 2003, and to all the other generous supporters who followed. In the American Wing itself, the real work of course was done by my immensely talented and committed curatorial colleagues — Alice Frelinghuysen, Peter Kenny, Elizabeth Kornhauser, Amelia Peck, Thayer Tolles, Beth Wees, Barbara Weinberg, and a superb support staff. Thanks also to former curators. In the following pages Betsy, Barbara, Thayer, and Beth, together with research associates Medill Harvey and Nicholas Vincent, will join with me in discussing aspects of the newly opened galleries. Peter will conclude with an article about the Duncan Phyfe retrospective now on view in the Wing’s Erving and Joyce Wolf special exhibition Gallery.


Morrison Heckscher is the Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Chest-on-chest, attributed to Thomas Affleck (1740–1795) and James Reynolds (1736–1794), Philadelphia, 1770–1775. Mahogany, white cedar, yellow pine, tulip poplar. H. 97-1/2, W. 46-7/8, D. 24-1/4 in. Photography by Richard Cheek. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing and Rogers Funds; Virginia Groomes Gift, in memory of Mary W. Groomes, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Danziger, Herman Merkin, and Anonymous Gifts, 1975 (1975.91).
Chest-on-chest, attributed to Thomas Affleck (1740–1795) and James Reynolds (1736–1794), Philadelphia, 1770–1775. Mahogany, white cedar, yellow pine, tulip poplar. H. 97-1/2, W. 46-7/8, D. 24-1/4 in. Photography by Richard Cheek. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing and Rogers Funds; Virginia Groomes Gift, in memory of Mary W. Groomes, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Danziger, Herman Merkin, and Anonymous Gifts, 1975 (1975.91).
Chest-on-chest, attributed to Thomas Affleck (1740–1795) and James Reynolds (1736–1794), Philadelphia, 1770–1775. Mahogany, white cedar, yellow pine, tulip poplar. H. 97-1/2, W. 46-7/8, D. 24-1/4 in. Photography by Richard Cheek. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing and Rogers Funds; Virginia Groomes Gift, in memory of Mary W. Groomes, and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick M. Danziger, Herman Merkin, and Anonymous Gifts, 1975 (1975.91).

Colonial Furniture in a New Light by Morrison Heckscher and Nicholas C. Vincent
by Morrison Heckscher and Nicholas C. Vincent

Cabinetmaking was arguably the first trade in colonial America to consciously seek out new and innovative modes of expression. Indeed, in 2005 the art critic Robert Hughes expressed what collectors of colonial Americana had long known intuitively — that “furniture became the first American art to attain complete maturity.” He was thinking specifically of John Townsend in Newport, but the observation is broadly valid.

The first surge of creativity occurred in Boston during the 1730s, when furniture makers recombined English features to produce such iconic forms as the high chest of drawers and the block-front case piece. Starting in the 1740s, native-born Quaker cabinetmakers in Newport, Rhode Island, adapted and refined standard Boston forms by adding distinctive carved shells, scalloped profiles, and claw feet with highly articulated tendons and undercut talons. Led by the Townsend and Goddard families of cabinetmakers, Newport produced some of the most original furniture in colonial America, most notably block-and-shell case pieces that have no European precedent. After mid-century, Philadelphia enjoyed unprecedented growth and became a magnet for ambitious and highly skilled London craftsmen who grafted fashionable rococo ornament on to traditional forms, thereby creating something altogether different. Meanwhile,
in Connecticut, where there was no major city to influence style, cabinetmakers borrowed liberally from Boston, Newport, New York, and even Philadelphia, creating unique and fascinating hybrids.

High chest of drawers, Philadelphia, 1762–1765. Mahogany, tulip poplar, yellow pine, white cedar. H. 91-3/4, W. 44-5/8, D. 24-5/8 in. John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1918 (18.110.4). Chest-on-chest, made by Thomas Townsend (1742–1827), Newport, R. I., ca. 1772. Mahogany, chestnut, tulip poplar. H. 86-3/4, W. 44, D. 21-3/8 in. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Goelet Gift, Sansbury-Mills Fund, and Leigh Keno and The Hohmann Foundation Gifts, 2005 (2005.52).

What unites the work of these very distinct regional schools is their grounding in the design and proportion of classical architecture. And it is in the largest of the new Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Galleries in the Met’s new American Wing that this story is told through a line-up, on tier platforms, of some familiar stalwarts — high chests and chests-on-chests from the major cabinetmaking centers.

To reinforce the link between architecture and cabinetwork, grandly scaled eighteenth-century doorways are installed at either end of the gallery. The first, from Westfield, Massachusetts, has the massive proportions, scrolled pediment, and whimsical carved and painted decoration typical of the Connecticut River Valley. The other door surround, from Savannah, Georgia, is an exercise in refined neoclassicism, with its white paint, fluted Ionic pilasters, and pitch-perfect triangular pediment.

Chest of drawers, made by John Townsend (1732–1809), Newport, R. I., 1765. Mahogany, tulip poplar, pine, chestnut.  H. 34-1/2, W. 37-1/2, D. 20-3/4 in. Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.57.1). Easy chair, made by Caleb Gardner (d. 1761). Newport, R. I., 1758. Walnut, maple. H. 46-3/8, W. 32-3/8, D. 25-7/8 in. Gift of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, 1950 (50.228.3).
Chest of drawers, made by John Townsend (1732–1809), Newport, R. I., 1765. Mahogany, tulip poplar, pine, chestnut. H. 34-1/2, W. 37-1/2, D. 20-3/4 in. Rogers Fund, 1927 (27.57.1).

Easy chair, made by Caleb Gardner (d. 1761). Newport, R. I., 1758. Walnut, maple. H. 46-3/8, W. 32-3/8, D. 25-7/8 in. Gift of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, 1950 (50.228.3).

Also new to the second-floor installation is the Joyce B. Cowin Gallery, which houses a special exhibition honoring the legendary collector Natalie K. Blair. All of the furniture on display was once in Mrs. Blair’s collection in Tuxedo Park and New York City, and the majority is on view for the first time ever thanks to the generosity and careful stewardship of Mrs. Screven Lorillard (Alice Whitney), to whom it descended. This extraordinary new loan includes superb block-and-shell case pieces from both Newport and Connecticut, which honor the keen eye of Mrs. Blair while filling important gaps in the museum’s holdings. Also represented in the Lorillard loan are exceptional dressing tables from Newport and Boston and classic side chairs from Philadelphia. As the new second floor galleries make abundantly clear, the very best colonial furniture exemplifies originality and quality.


Morrison Heckscher is the Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the American Wing, and Nicholas C. Vincent is a research associate in the American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A New Gallery for Early American Silver by Beth Carver Wees and Medill Higgins Harvey
by Beth Carver Wees and Medill Higgins Harvey

Fig. 1: John Hull (1624–1683) and Robert Sanderson Sr. (ca. 1608–1693), Wine Cup, Boston, Mass., ca. 1660. Silver. H: 6-7/8, Diam. foot: 4-1⁄16; WT: 10 oz. 4 dwt. (318.4 g). Promised Gift of Roy J. Zuckerberg (L.2008.22).
Fig. 1: John Hull (1624–1683) and Robert Sanderson Sr. (ca. 1608–1693), Wine Cup, Boston, Mass., ca. 1660. Silver. H: 6-7/8, Diam. foot: 4-1⁄16; WT: 10 oz. 4 dwt. (318.4 g). Promised Gift of Roy J. Zuckerberg (L.2008.22).

When the Metropolitan Museum first opened its American Wing in 1924, silver of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from the collection of Judge Alphonso T. Clearwater (1848–1933) was displayed in its own dedicated gallery. Since the 1980s the history of American silver has been interpreted on the balcony over the Engelhard Court, in the company of the museum’s extensive holdings of ceramics, glass, and pewter. Now, thanks to the passion and generosity of Roy J. Zuckerberg, a gallery devoted to silver of the colonial and Federal eras has been installed for the first time in generations. Conceived as a silver treasury, the Zuckerberg gallery houses early American domestic and ecclesiastical objects from the museum’s collection, along with selected loans of exceptional quality. Traditionally associated with financial security and elevated social standing, wrought silver objects were also highly prized for their beauty and utility. Early Americans presented them to their houses of worship and commissioned them to mark important occasions. As the one art form routinely personalized with armorial engraving, monograms, and dedicatory inscriptions, silver was and remains the ideal choice for honoring individual, civic, and professional accomplishments. Chronological and thematic arrangements encourage visitors to explore the development of forms and to appreciate the roles such vessels played in the lives of their ancestors.

Fig. 2: Cornelius Kierstede (1674–ca. 1757), Two–handled Bowl, New York City, 1700–1710. Silver. H. 5-3/8, Diam. 13-13⁄16 in.; WT: 25 oz. 19 dwt. (806.9 g). Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1938 (38.63).
Fig. 2: Cornelius Kierstede (1674–ca. 1757), Two–handled Bowl, New York City, 1700–1710. Silver. H. 5-3/8, Diam. 13-13⁄16 in.; WT: 25 oz. 19 dwt. (806.9 g). Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1938 (38.63).

Fig. 3: Myer Myers (1723–1795), Basket, New York City, 1770–1776. Silver. H: 11-3⁄16, W: 14-7⁄16, D: 11-3/8 in.; WT: 41 oz. 5 dwt (1282.7 g). Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1954 (54.167).
Fig. 3: Myer Myers (1723–1795), Basket, New York City, 1770–1776. Silver. H: 11-3⁄16, W: 14-7⁄16, D: 11-3/8 in.; WT: 41 oz. 5 dwt (1282.7 g). Morris K. Jesup Fund, 1954 (54.167).

The earliest object on display is a wine cup (Fig. 1) made about 1660. Its bell-shaped bowl, baluster stem, and broad circular foot epitomize the grace and purity of seventeenth-century Boston silver. It is one of only ten surviving wine cups marked by the earliest New England silversmiths, John Hull (1624–1683) and Robert Sanderson (ca. 1608–1693). Both English–born, Hull and Sanderson went on to train the next generation of silversmiths, thereby transferring centuries-old craft traditions to the New World. Like much early American church silver, this cup began life as a domestic vessel. It bears the delicately pricked initials B over R A for the original owners, Richard (1610–1690) and Alice Brackett (1615–1690), who donated it to the Braintree Church, later the First Congregational Church of Quincy, Massachusetts, prior to their deaths in 1690. The cup is a promised gift to the museum from Roy J. Zuckerberg.

Fig. 4: Paul Revere Jr. (1734–1818), Tea Urn, Boston, Mass., 1791. Silver and ivory. H: 22-1/4, W: 10-5/8, D: 10-3/8 in.; WT: 110 oz. 10 dwt. (3437.2 g). Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Annette de la Renta, Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Goelet, Drue Heinz, and Henry R. Kravis Foundation Inc. Gifts, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Margaret Dewar Stearns Bequest, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony L. Geller and Herbert and Jeanine Coyne Foundation Gifts, Max H. Gluck Foundation Inc. Gift, in honor of Virginia and Leonard Marx, and Rogers, Louis V. Bell and Dodge Funds; and Gift of Elizabeth K. Rodiger, 1990 (1990.226a–d)
Fig. 4: Paul Revere Jr. (1734–1818), Tea Urn, Boston, Mass., 1791. Silver and ivory. H: 22-1/4, W: 10-5/8, D: 10-3/8 in.; WT: 110 oz. 10 dwt. (3437.2 g). Purchase, The Annenberg Foundation Gift, Annette de la Renta, Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Goelet, Drue Heinz, and Henry R. Kravis Foundation Inc. Gifts, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Margaret Dewar Stearns Bequest, Mr. and Mrs. Anthony L. Geller and Herbert and Jeanine Coyne Foundation Gifts, Max H. Gluck Foundation Inc. Gift, in honor of Virginia and Leonard Marx, and Rogers, Louis V. Bell and Dodge Funds; and Gift of Elizabeth K. Rodiger, 1990 (1990.226a–d).

Whereas early Boston silver is indebted to English styles and traditions, objects marked by New York’s colonial silversmiths reflect strong Dutch influence. One extraordinary example is the six–lobed bowl by Cornelius Kierstede (1674–ca. 1757) ornamented with exuberantly chased tulips and cast caryatid handles (Fig. 2). This bowl was originally owned by Theunis Jacobsen Quick (ca. 1662–ca. 1743), a baker, and his wife Vroutje Janse Haring (b. 1663), whose initials are engraved above one of the tulips. It is a form often called a brandywine bowl, derived from the brandewijnskom made in the Netherlands. Brandywine bowls were used ceremonially at weddings, funerals, and particularly at the kindermaal, where women gathered to toast the health of a newborn child. Bowls of this type were filled with raisins and brandy, and guests were invited to serve themselves with an accompanying silver spoon.

The gallery also contains one of the few known silver baskets made in colonial America (Fig. 3). New York silversmith Myer Myers (1723–1795) emulated high-style London silver when he created this elegant pierced basket for the wealthy West Indies merchant Samuel Cornell (1731–1781) and his wife Susannah (1732–1778) in around 1770–1776. Such baskets, used to hold fruit, bread, or cake, were common features of elegant tables in England and the colonies by the middle of the eighteenth century; however, most baskets used in colonial America were imported from England. That Myers’s shop succeeded at such an ambitious undertaking is a testament to their consummate skill. Each pierced opening was cut with a fret saw, making the execution of this basket an exacting and unforgiving feat of design and craftsmanship.

At the center of the gallery is a case devoted to the neoclassical silver of the early years of the American Republic. One of the most commanding objects on display is a monumental hot water urn (Fig. 4) recorded by the patriot silversmith, Paul Revere Jr. (1734–1818), in his ledger on April 20, 1791. The records indicate that the urn was made for Hannah Rowe (1725–1805) of Boston, whose initials are engraved in the oval reserve on its foot. At 111 ounces, it is the largest and earliest of the three known urns by Revere. Elegant and restrained, with its attenuated body, high looped handles, square plinth, and “bright-cut” engraving, the urn exemplifies neoclassical styling that enjoyed widespread popularity in America at the end of the eighteenth century.

The new silver gallery offers visitors an intimate setting in which to view and study the Metropolitan Museum’s rich and varied collection of seventeenth and eighteenth-century American silver. We thank and applaud Roy Zuckerberg for encouraging and supporting the creation of this gallery, which has inspired a reassessment and celebration of the art of the early American silversmith.


Beth Carver Wees is curator of American Decorative Arts, and Medill Higgins Harvey is a research associate in the American Wing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A New Look at The Met’s  Hudson River School Collection by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser
by Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser

Fig. 1: Thomas Cole (1801–1848), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm — the Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51-1/2 x 76 inches. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908 (08.228).
Fig. 1: Thomas Cole (1801–1848), View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm — the Oxbow, 1836. Oil on canvas, 51-1/2 x 76 inches. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908 (08.228).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was established in 1870 by New York’s most prominent social, business, and cultural leaders who intended it to be a “complete collection of objects illustrative of the history of Art from the earliest beginnings to the present time.” American art of the era featured strongly in the acquisitions that would begin to form the Met’s collections. The new American painting and sculpture galleries highlight the museum’s unparalleled collection of landscapes by members of the Hudson River School — the nation’s first national school of painters — exploring the movement’s evolution over the course of the nineteenth century and revealing its historic roots in the museum’s early history.

Fig. 2: Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas, 66-1/8 x 119-1/4 inches.  Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909 (09.95).
Fig. 2: Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), The Heart of the Andes, 1859. Oil on canvas, 66-1/8 x 119-1/4 inches.
Bequest of Margaret E. Dows, 1909 (09.95).

As founding trustees of the Met, the nature poet William Cullen Bryant and such leading artists of the day as Frederic Edwin Church and John Frederick Kensett helped to shape the direction of the museum. A number of important patrons and collectors of these artists’ works, many of whom were also Met trustees, insured that the most important examples of works by Hudson River School painters would enter the museum’s collections as gifts and bequests by the turn of the century.

From the 1820s through the Civil War era, American painters expressed in their art a profound sense of national identity by depicting the scale, freshness, and splendor of the New World and its seemingly endless wilderness lands. Three new galleries, endowed by Jack and Susan Warner, The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation, and Thomas and Georgia Gosnell, chart the history of the Hudson River School, beginning with its early founding. With Thomas Cole (1801–1848) as their leader, the first painter to portray America in its wilderness state, these artists created an American landscape vision based on the exploration of nature seen as a resource for spiritual renewal and an expression of cultural and national identity. Cole‘s early images of the Northeast, such as View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Storm, 1836 (Fig. 1), featured in the first gallery, inspired successive artists to embrace heroic landscape subjects grounded in the notion that what defined Americans was their relationship with the land.

Fig. 3: Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863. Oil on canvas, 73-1/2 x 120-3/4 inches. Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.123).
Fig. 3: Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, 1863. Oil on canvas, 73-1/2 x 120-3/4 inches. Rogers Fund, 1907 (07.123).

Fig. 4: Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), Approaching Thunderstorm, 1859. Oil on canvas, 28 x 44 inches. Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1975 (75.160).
Fig. 4: Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), Approaching Thunderstorm, 1859. Oil on canvas, 28 x 44 inches. Gift of Erving Wolf Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. Erving Wolf, in memory of Diane R. Wolf, 1975 (75.160).

Large-scale canvases of the Hudson River School at mid-century are presented in a grand salon gallery. After 1850 artists of the Hudson River School looked for inspiration farther from home, seeking to measure the experience of their own region and national landscapes against wilderness experiences in the West, the Arctic, and the Andes. They also traveled to Europe, confronting and interpreting long-venerated Old World sites. During the Civil War era, landscape painting attained unprecedented status in American art. Leading artists, including Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900) and Albert Bierstadt (1830–1902), employed larger canvases for such masterworks as Heart of the Andes (1859) (Fig. 2) and Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863) (Fig. 3) to promote expanding notions of landscape that rivaled history paintings in both scale and message. Their entrepreneurial spirit resulted in the “great picture” — a reference to size but also to the maker’s ambition. Embedded in these grand scale paintings were the painters’ vision of America’s cultural aspirations of eminent domain and the quest to preserve the Union during the Civil War era. Artists showed single large paintings in theatrical settings and charged admission to see them.

Fig. 5: Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862. Oil on canvas, 48 x 39-7/8 inches. Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.62).
Fig. 5: Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862. Oil on canvas, 48 x 39-7/8 inches. Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.62).
Fig. 5: Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823–1880), A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove), 1862. Oil on canvas, 48 x 39-7/8 inches. Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914 (15.30.62).

Light became the virtual subject for many artists of the late Hudson River School, which is the focus of the third gallery. Several trends in European art had an impact on American painters, who traveled to the Old World in greater numbers than ever before. Inspired by French Barbizon painting, George Inness strove “to awaken an emotion” with his compositions’ fragile beauty and restrained harmonies of color. In addition, new scientific theories involving natural law — foremost among them Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) — contributed to the changes in landscape art. In their preoccupation with light, these painters articulated simultaneously their interest in naturalistic effects and their perception of the spiritual essence of nature. They chose subjects closer to home for an emerging vacationing class that expressed the country’s nostalgia for the waning wilderness. With a blackening sky and eerily illumined terrain, Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904) captured the “ominous hush” just before the storm in his extraordinary painting Approaching Thunderstorm (1859) (Fig. 4), while Sanford Gifford (1823–1880) painted a dreamy and radiantly sunlit view of the Catskills entitled A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove) (1862) (Fig. 5). As visitors walk through the new galleries they will not only view the early gifts and bequests of the Museum’s founders, but many recent and important additions to the collection, which continues to grow through the generosity of our inspired supporters of the American Wing.


Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser is curator of American Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Met Goes West: American Western Sculpture in the American Wing by Thayer Tolles
by Thayer Tolles

For the first time, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a gallery devoted to art of the American West — land west of the Mississippi River in the continental United States — from 1860 to 1920, in its new second-floor galleries in the American Wing. Here, paintings by Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran represent the breathtaking beauty of the natural landscape, while those by Emanuel Leutze, Frederic Remington, and Charles Schreyvogel portray the gripping adventures of settlers, cavalrymen, and American Indians.

The Metropolitan’s collection of western bronzes is particularly strong, with statuettes steadily entering the collection beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century. Some were purchased directly from the artists themselves, insuring extra attention was devoted to their casting and finishing. For instance, in 1907, the museum acquired four statuettes from Frederic Remington and two from Solon Hannibal Borglum. Through ongoing acquisitions, notably the purchase of James Earle Fraser’s iconic End of the Trail (Fig. 1) in 2010, the western sculpture holdings continue to grow. Many will be featured in this new gallery, notably in the Richard and Sheila Schwartz Display of American Sculpture.

Fig. 1: James Earle Fraser (1876–1953), End of the Trail, modeled 1918; cast by 1919. Bronze. H. 33, W. 26, D. 8-3/4 in. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Mr. and Mrs. S. Parker Gilbert Gift, Morris K. Jesup and 2004 Benefit Funds, 2010 (2010.73).  Fig. 2: Frederic Remington (1861–1909), The Broncho Buster, modeled 1895; revised 1909; cast by November 1910. Bronze. H. 32-1/4, W. 27-1/4, D. 15 in. Bequest of Jacob Ruppert, 1939 (39.65.45).
Fig. 1: James Earle Fraser (1876–1953), End of the Trail, modeled 1918; cast by 1919. Bronze. H. 33, W. 26, D. 8-3/4 in. Purchase, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Mr. and Mrs. S. Parker Gilbert Gift, Morris K. Jesup and 2004 Benefit Funds, 2010 (2010.73).

Fig. 2: Frederic Remington (1861–1909), The Broncho Buster, modeled 1895; revised 1909; cast by November 1910. Bronze. H. 32-1/4, W. 27-1/4, D. 15 in. Bequest of Jacob Ruppert, 1939 (39.65.45).
Sculptural representations of life in the western states and territories focused on the daily experiences of the inhabitants, American-Indian ritual and dress, man’s relationship with beast, and animals as forces of uncivilized nature. The resulting bronze statuettes were eagerly collected by an urban-based American public hungry for art and literature mythologizing the West, first as an American Eden and later as a vanquished wilderness. The most popular, with more than three hundred authorized casts, was Frederic Remington’s iconic action sculpture, The Broncho Buster, copyrighted in 1895, which captures the colorful drama of the masculine frontier experience (Fig. 2). The rough-and-ready action of Remington’s paintings carried over into this representation of a cowboy determinedly taming a wild horse. Based in New York, Remington revised and enlarged his model from scratch in 1909, shortly before his death.

Fig. 3: Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866–1947), The Moqui Prayer for Rain, modeled 1895–1896; cast ca. 1897. Bronze. H. 22-1/4, W. 26, D. 12 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Crawford, 1978 (1978.513.6).
Fig. 3: Hermon Atkins MacNeil (1866–1947), The Moqui Prayer for Rain, modeled 1895–1896; cast ca. 1897. Bronze. H. 22-1/4, W. 26, D. 12 in. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Crawford, 1978 (1978.513.6).

As miners and settlers went west, so too did artists. Some, such as Hermon Atkins MacNeil, were transitory explorers and recorders of the western experience. During the 1890s MacNeil traveled frequently from Chicago to the Southwest. His western sculptures — several modeled in Rome — combine his interpretations of Indian culture with the grace and grandeur of classical statuary. On his visit to northern Arizona in 1895, MacNeil witnessed the Moqui (Hopi) people’s annual prayer for rain at the top of a mesa at Oraibi. The Moqui Prayer for Rain (Fig. 3) depicts the climax of the ceremony when participants ran down the trail from the mesa holding live serpents, returning them to the plains so that the tribe’s prayers for rain would be answered.

James Earle Fraser was among the sculptors who were raised in the West and whose artwork was informed by life experience. Drawing on his time growing up in Dakota Territory in the 1880s, Fraser created End of the Trail as a stirring commentary on the damaging effects of advancing white settlement on the American Indian population. The statuette of the exhausted Indian seated on his windblown pony epitomized the concept of “the vanishing West,” whereby the exploration and settlement of land coast to coast resulted in the displacement of American Indian and Hispanic civilizations. Ironically, the most western of subjects were often rendered by French-trained artists such as Fraser, who were expressing themselves at once as American, through their choice of themes, and as modern, through their command of a sophisticated naturalistic aesthetic of textured surfaces and lively forms.

Fig. 4: Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860–1950), Stalking Panther, modeled 1891–1892; revised mid-1890s; cast ca. 1914–1917. Bronze. H. 9-1/2, W. 37-1/2, D. 6-1/4 in. Purchase, William Cullen Bryant Fellows Gifts and Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1996 (1996.561).
Fig. 4: Alexander Phimister Proctor (1860–1950), Stalking Panther, modeled 1891–1892; revised mid-1890s; cast ca. 1914–1917. Bronze. H. 9-1/2, W. 37-1/2, D. 6-1/4 in. Purchase, William Cullen Bryant Fellows Gifts and Maria DeWitt Jesup Fund, 1996 (1996.561).

Representations of animals were particularly popular and served as documents of indigenous American wildlife. Western native Alexander Phimister Proctor, known as a scientist-artist, produced finely wrought statuettes, which captured the elemental behavior of animals in their natural habitats. His Stalking Panther (Fig. 4) is more than just an anatomical summation of an elongated cat in mid-stride; it records the stop-action drama of a stealthy hunter slinking toward its unseen prey.

These statuettes, whether based on an imagined past or historical reality, or a bit of both, glorify the Old West past of cowboys, settlers, Indians, and animals, a marked contrast to the realities of commerce and industrialization transforming and characterizing urban centers to this day.


Thayer Tolles is curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portraiture in the Grand Manner by H. Barbara Weinberg
by H. Barbara Weinberg

Fig. 1: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)  Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–1884  Oil on canvas, 82-1/4 x 43-1/8 inches  Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53)
Fig. 1: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883–1884. Oil on canvas, 82-1/4 x 43-1/8 inches. Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1916 (16.53).

Imagine an international gathering of some of the most attractive and captivating people of the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Now translate that imagined gathering into an actual gathering of splendid full-length portraits and you will find yourself in the Met’s new gallery for portraiture in the grand manner, endowed by the Terian Family.

During its Gilded Age, the United States experienced rapid economic expansion and emerged as a world power. American artists studied and lived abroad and competed with their European counterparts for commissions from wealthy patrons seeking conspicuous display. Some of the most successful examples by our leading cosmopolitan painters — John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, James McNeill Whistler, Cecilia Beaux, and Thomas Eakins — are on view in the Terian Family Gallery, which also features portraits of the artists’ friends.

The earliest canvas in the gallery is Sargent’s 1882 portrait of Charlotte Louise Burckhardt (1862–1892), a member of his circle in Paris. Like all the painters represented in this gallery, Sargent emulated Diego Velázquez’s candid characterizations, ambiguous pictorial space, and monochromic palette. When the novelist Henry James saw Sargent’s portrait at the 1882 Paris Salon, he professed that it offered “the slightly ‘uncanny’ spectacle of a talent which on the very threshold of its career has nothing more to learn.” Sargent was only twenty-six.

Sargent hoped to enhance his reputation by painting — without a commission — Louisiana-born Madame Pierre Gautreau (1859–1915), a well-known socialite in Paris, and showing the portrait (Fig. 1). With his sitter’s complicity, he emphasized her daring personal style. Receiving more ridicule than praise for the portrait at the 1884 Salon and incurring the wrath of the sitter’s family, Sargent kept the painting. When he sold it to The Metropolitan in 1916, he remarked, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done,” but he asked that the museum disguise the sitter’s name — hence, Madame X.

Fig. 2: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899. Oil on canvas, 115 x 84-1/8 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1927 (27.67).
Fig. 2: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899. Oil on canvas, 115 x 84-1/8 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1927 (27.67).
Fig. 2: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899. Oil on canvas, 115 x 84-1/8 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1927 (27.67).
Fig. 2: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, 1899.
Oil on canvas, 115 x 84-1/8 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1927 (27.67).

After moving to London in 1884, Sargent earned the trust of British patrons by the early 1890s, when he painted and successfully exhibited portraits like that of Mrs. Hugh Hammersley (1863–1911), a banker’s wife and a fashionable hostess (1892). Sargent’s ravishing images of glamorous English women culminated in The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant (Fig. 2), which shows the three daughters of an aristocrat in their family’s home on Belgrave Square. Displayed in 1900 at the Royal Academy, the portrait was dubbed “The Three Graces” by the Prince of Wales.

Fig. 3: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897. Oil on canvas, 84-1/4 x 39-3/4 inches. Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104)
Fig. 3: John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), Mr. and Mrs. I. N. Phelps Stokes, 1897. Oil on canvas, 84-1/4 x 39-3/4 inches. Bequest of Edith Minturn Phelps Stokes (Mrs. I. N.), 1938 (38.104).

Sargent painted American patrons during his visits to the United States and in his London studio. After Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes (1867–1944), the scion of a wealthy New York family, married Edith Minturn (1867–1937) in 1895, a friend commissioned Sargent to paint a portrait of Mrs. Stokes as a wedding gift (Fig. 3). When the dog that Sargent wished to include was unavailable, Mr. Stokes later recalled he “offered to assume the role of the Great Dane.” Sargent’s unconventional arrangement of the man behind the woman inspired Beaux when she painted Phelps Stokes’ parents, Mr. and Mrs. Anson Phelps Stokes (1898) in their Manhattan residence.

Chase, a master eclectic, was susceptible to his contemporaries’ influence. In 1885, he introduced himself to the expatriate Whistler in London and acceded to Whistler’s desire that they paint one another’s portraits. In depicting Whistler, Chase echoed his compatriot’s recent portraits, such as that of Théodore Duret (1838–1927), the Parisian collector and art critic (Fig. 4). Whistler called Chase’s amazingly Whistlerian portrait a “monstrous lampoon” and may have retaliated by destroying his portrait of Chase. Chase also admired and emulated Sargent. In 1888, he echoed Madame X in his Lady in Black, a portrait of his student Marietta Benedict Cotton (1868–1947), and gave it to The Metropolitan in 1891 to announce his skills. In 1902, Sargent would paint Chase’s portrait on commission from a group of Chase’s students who gave the canvas to The Metropolitan in Chase’s honor.

And what about that brooding fellow at the end of the gallery? The painter is Thomas Eakins and the sitter is his brother-in-law Louis N. Kenton (1869–1947). Known as The Thinker (Fig. 5), the portrait simultaneously demonstrates Eakins’s devotion to academic principles and transcends specificity. Encoding the spirit of modern man on the brink of the new century, The Thinker is paired with Whistler’s Theodore Duret — a modern “arrangement” — to provide a fitting coda to the Terian Family Gallery and introduce the gallery of the Ashcan Artists and Their Circle, which includes Robert Henri’s portraits in the Grand Manner.

Fig. 4: James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Black: Portrait of Theodore Duret, 1883. Oil on canvas, 76-1/8 x 35-3/4 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1913 (13.20).  Fig. 5: Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900. Oil on canvas, 82 x 42 inches. John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172).
Fig. 4: James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Black: Portrait of Theodore Duret, 1883. Oil on canvas, 76-1/8 x 35-3/4 inches. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Wolfe Fund, 1913 (13.20).

Fig. 5: Thomas Eakins (1844–1916), The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton, 1900. Oil on canvas, 82 x 42 inches. John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1917 (17.172).


H. Barbara Weinberg is the Alice Pratt Brown curator of American paintings and sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

All images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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