While growing up in New Jersey, I often visited historic landmarks, museums, galleries, and other sites of interest in New York City during school field trips. One of the places most often visited by my school groups was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a gorgeous quarter-mile long building of nearly two million square feet.
Celebrating its centennial this year, the Met (as it’s known) contains collections of Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, Greek, Roman, European, pre-Columbian, New Guinean, Islamic, and American art including sculpture, paintings, drawings, calligraphy, prints, photographs, glass, bronzes, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, lacquerwork, furniture, period rooms, arms and armor, and musical instruments. (Whew!)
Founded by businessmen, financiers, and artists, The Met received its articles of incorporation on April 13, 1870, with the museum opening on February 20, 1872 in the Dodworth Building on Fifth Avenue. Railroad executive John Taylor Johnston was the first president, perhaps prompted by the fact that his personal art collection seeded the museum. Eight years later, the museum had outgrown its location twice and moved to the current location. By the early 20th Century, The Met was considered one of the greatest art centers in the world.
Every organization needs a mascot, and The Met proudly hosts “William” a 4,000+ year old statute of a hippopotamus as theirs. The piece was gifted to the museum in 1917 by Edward S. Harkness, an American philanthropist, whose father Stephen V. Harkness made his wealthy by an early investment in Standard Oil. Discovered during the Khashaba excavations in Egypt in 1910, the statue is nearly eight inches long, three inches wide, and four and one-half inches tall.
The fourth most visited museum in the world, The Met hosted 7.3 million visitors in 2019. In addition to its main facility on Fifth Avenue, The Cloisters is located in Fort Tryon Park and built using salvaged structures from five medieval French cloisters. Dedicated only to medieval art, the facility was completed in 1938 and filled with a collection originally assembled by George Gray Barnard and purchased in full by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1925 as a gift to the Met.
A popular location with movie directors, The Met has been featured in dozens of films including When Harry Met Sally, Hello Again, The Nanny Diaries, Hitch, and Keeping the Faith.
Have you ever visited The Met? What is your favorite art gallery?
Linda Shenton Matchett writes about ordinary people who did extraordinary things in days gone by. A volunteer docent and archivist for the Wright Museum of WWII, Linda is also a trustee for her local public library. She was born a stone’s throw from Fort McHenry and has lived in historic places all her life. Now located in central New Hampshire, Linda’s favorite activities include exploring historic sites and immersing herself in the imaginary worlds created by other authors. Visit her website where she blogs about history, mystery, and faith.
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