Our History of The Metropolitan Museum of Art takes a look at one of the most wonderful museums in the United States. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is not the oldest museum in the United States (that distinction belongs to the Charleston Museum in Charleston South Carolina.) However, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest, most prestigious and distinguished museums in the entire world. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located along 5th Avenue in Central Park. The front entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art stands directly at the intersection of 5th Avenue and 82nd street in the borough of Manhattan, New York.
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art also has two satellite buildings known as the Met Breuer located at 945 Madison Ave at 75th Street New York N.Y. and The Met Cloisters located at 99 Margaret Corbin Drive Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY.
The History of the Metropolitan Museum of Art goes back to the year 1866 when a meeting of Americans diplomats including the lawyer John Jay, agreed that there was a need to open a museum in the United States to preserve and present historic world culture as both an entertainment and educational vehicle for Americans to learn and enjoy from. It’s obvious that those meeting in Pais must have been inspired by the incredible Louvre Museum which still stands as the world’s greatest museum. Nonetheless, the birth of the Metropolitan Museum of Art back in 1866 and the wondrous museum it has become, stands as some incredible competition for the Louvre in the present day.
The Dodworth Building at 681 Fifth Avenue was the first site of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened in 1870. Ten years later on March 30, 1880, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art relocated to its current location at 1000 Park Avenue New York City. The initial building that housed the Metropolitan Museum Of Art went through many changes and expansions over the years.
The Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s initial structure was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. The initial structure that stood as the Museum’s exterior is now encased inside the museum after years of expansion. See picture below of the exterior wall of the original museum now inside the museum.
John Taylor Johnston who was a successful American businessman and patron of the arts served as the Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s first president. Taylor’s role as president was important, but not as as important as his role was in supplying the museum with its first art collection. John Taylor Johnston and New York City art collector William Tilden Blodgett were responsible for acquiring through their own financial means, the Museum’s first 174 paintings.
Over time, the The Metropolitan Museum Of Art would acquire many collections from private collectors. In 1874, the acquisition of what was known as the Cesnola Collection instantly put the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the map as a player competing with some of Europe’s finest museums. The Cesnola Collection was acquired from Luigi Palma di Cesnola do who had served in the American military in Europe. While serving as the American console in Cypress, Luigi Palma Cesnola acquired many spectacular Cypriot antiquities. The nation’s of both France and Russia pursued his collection for their own museums. In the end, wealthy American businessman convinced Luigi Palma di Cesnola to bring his collection to the new Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Luigi Palma di Cesnola would also serve as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s first director until his death in 1904.
The acquisition of the private collection of Luigi Palma di Cesnola defines the role that private collections play in public museums. The history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is lined with the concept acquiring private collections and individual pieces. The Metropolitan Museum of Art presents to its patrons collections rather than just individual pieces. Of course there are individual pieces, but everything is designed to be collected and stored in sections called collections.
These collections grow over time as pieces are found, purchased and discovered that relate to the particular collection. Some collections are acquired entirely in one purchase from an an individual collector. Sometimes the collections are acquired by a collector who has bequeathed their collection to the museum Those purchases or acquired willed donations are usually watershed moments for the museum. One such moment was the acquisition of the Robert Lehman collection.
If the name Robert Lehman sounds familiar, it’s because he was one of the owners of Lehman Brothers which was the fourth largest Investment bank in the United States. Only Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley were bigger than Lehman Brothers. For over 60 years, Robert Lehman took all that money he was making and purchased art, tons of it. Robert Lehman did not just collect paintings, he collected all types of antiques. From a Kees van Dongen 1950’s painting entitled “At The Racetrack”, to a 13th Century Syrian Biconical Bowl, Robert Lehman collected them and eventually gave them all to the museum.
Throughout the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the museum has divided up its interior into collections based on geography, culture and time. These collections include sections labeled as Medieval Art, European sculpture and decorative arts, the arts of Africa, ancient Near Eastern art, Greek and Roman art, photographs, musical instruments and modern and contemporary art.
The museum has also hosted many touring collections and exhibit over the years. Upon our last visit in June of 2019, we enjoyed an amazing exhibit focused on the instruments played on many rock and roll recordings. The exhibit entitled Play It Loud borrows many instruments stored in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland Ohio. Exhibits like Play It Loud will usually be hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a few months.
New York City is filled with incredible museums. The Metropolitan Museum of Art stands along a section of Manhattan labeled as Museum Mile. Like Amsterdam’s Museum Row, Manhattan’s Museum Mile is lined with great museums such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Jewish Museum, the National Academy Museum, Neue Galerie, the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, the Museum of the City of New York and the El Museo del Barrio. One could spend weeks exploring all these fantastic museums located all within walking distance of each other.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s hours are Sunday through Thursday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm and Friday and Saturday from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm. The cost of admission varies depending on where you are from. If you a resident of New York admission is up to you as long as you can show proof of residence. Yes, that may sound odd, but if your a New Yorker and you only want to pay ten cents to enter, than that’s all you have to pay. For everyone else, admission is twenty five dollars for adults, seventeen dollars for Seniors (65 and over) twelve dollars for students and everyone under 12 years old are free.
If you have never been to the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, we hope this short history of the Metropolitan Museum Of Art has inspired you to make plans to take a trip to this wonderful museum. Like all the world’s great museums, one can spend an entire day at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art and still only experience a third of what the museum has to offer as far as insights into world history and culture. It is a extraordinary spectacular experience that should be enjoyed by everyone.