Little Bits of History

The Met

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 20, 2011

Metropolitan Museum of Art

February 20, 1872: New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opens. Often called simply The Met, the museum is on the eastern edge of Central Park and is part of the “Museum Mile.” There are eleven museums on Fifth Avenue, between 110th Street and 70th Street. The Met is located at 82nd Street. It is one of the world’s largest art galleries without taking into consideration the second smaller location in Upper Manhattan – “The Cloisters” which contains medieval art. The Met’s permanent collection contains over two million works divided into nineteen curatorial departments.

The New York State Legislature granted the Metropolitan Museum of Art an Act of Incorporation on April 13, 1870. They were to establish and maintain a museum and library of art in New York City. Their secondary purpose was to encourage and develop the Study of Fine Arts as well as applications of art into everyday operations. On this day, the museum opened at 681 Fifth Avenue. John Taylor Johnston used his private art collection to seed the new museum. The railroad executive also served at The Met’s first President. Publisher George Palmer Putnam was the founding superintendent. Eastman Johnson was Co-Founder of the museum. Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a Civil War officer, was the first director and served from 1879 to 1904.

When the museum first opened, there was a Roman stone sarcophagus and 174 paintings, mostly European, on display. The next year, they purchased the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot antiquities. They also moved to the Douglas Mansion at 128 West 14th Street. The museum’s collections kept expanding and a new building was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould. The design was already going out of style by the time the building was finished and twenty years later, it was deemed “a mistake.” Even so, it has been part of The Met ever since, with buildings going up around it and incorporating it into the design, albeit without some of the distinctive design elements.

Today, The Met measure almost ¼ mile long and has more than 2,000,000 square feet of floor space. It is more than twenty times the size of the original 1880 building. It is a group of 26 structures, most not visible from the exterior. New York City owns the museum building and contributes utilities as well as part of the cost of guardianship. The collections are owned by a private corporation of Fellows and Benefactors, made up of 1,630 people. The 2009-10 budget was $221 million or about $47 per visitor.

“A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession.” – Albert Camus

“All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” – Federico Fellini

“An artist is never ahead of his time but most people are far behind theirs.” – Edgard Varese

“An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” – James Whistler

Also on this day:
Iceberg Ahead – In 1856, the ship John Rutledge struck an iceberg and sunk.
Butch O’Hare – In 1942, Lt. O’Hare was declared a flying ace.


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