The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was incorporated in 1870and it first opened its doors to the public on February 20, 1872 inthe Dodworth Building at 681 Fifth Avenue. The idea of the museumfirst emerged in 1866 when a group of Americans who had travelled toFrance thought of the idea of creating a national institution in NewYork to promote art and art education in America. Lawyer John Jay iscredited with having proposed the idea. Jay managed to mobilizeseveral industrialists, civic leaders, businessmen, artists, artcollectors, and philanthropists of that time to support his ideawhich they did. One of the co-founders, John Taylor Johnston, wholater served as the first president of the Museum, donated hispersonal art collection as the seed collection of the museum. Anotherfamous co-founder was the American painter Eastman Johnson(1824-1906), who also managed to have several of his art piecesdisplayed at the museum.
The first object to be acquired by the Metropolitan Museum (MP) was aRoman Sarcophagus. This sarcophagus made of marble and measuringmarble 53 x 88 in. (134.6 x 223.5 cm) is finely worked butunfinished. It was discovered in 1863 in modern day Southern Turkeyand was gifted to the library by J. Abdo Debbas, the American viceconsul at Tarsus at that time. The piece was traced to Romanfunerary arts which were most likely buried in the tombs to carryalong treasures of the deceased. On the sides of the sarcophagus, itdepicts two winged gods and demigods associated with love and sex.The piece remains to be one of the core attractions at the museum asit tells the history of the museum and of the roman culture (MP).
With time, the museum managed to commission other art pieces. Forinstance, in 1871, 174 European paintings were entered into themuseums growing collection. Some of these early European paintingsare still around without much restoration work on them. These earlypieces include the oil on canvas painting titled “The Apotheosis ofthe Spanish Monarchy” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and the pen andbrown ink (brush and brown wash) titled “Landscape with a Tree anda Farm Building” by Anthony van Dyck (MP ).
As the museumincreased its collection, the building at Dodworth grew smaller.There was need to relocate the museum to a new location beforedeveloping a larger museum. Thus, on March 1 1873, the MetropolitanMuseum of Art signed a new lease to temporary occupy the DouglasMansion, located at 128 West 14th Street in Manhattan. This newlocation, which the museum occupied for the next six years, had moregallery space to handle the growing art collection. Although it wassufficiently spacious, it lacked proper heating which posed a dangerto some of the art pieces especially the paintings. By the end of thesix years, the current location on Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street,Central Park was complete (MP).
Besides housing art pieces, the building of the museum is a work ofart in itself. The bundling was designed by architects Calvert Vauxand Jacob Wrey Mould, who developed a Ruskinian Gothic Structure thathas been greatly modified through expansions that started almostimmediately after completion. In fact the first expansion wasrecorded in 1888 and today the building has a space of overtwo-million-square-foot. Major expansions include the addition of theRobert Lehman Wing (1975), the Sackler Wing (1978), the American Wing(1980), the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing (1982), the Lila AchesonWallace Wing (1987) and the Henry R. Kravis Wing (1991). Each ofthese wings is dedicated to displaying a unique category of art.
Apart from being divided into wings, the museum has differentsections as per category of items on display. They include theancient near eastern art, Egyptian art, Greek and Roman art, theIslamic art, Robert Lehmann collection, Asian art, arms and armor,drawings and prints, European sculptures and decorative arts,European paintings, and the costume institute (MP).
One of the most interesting sections of the museum has to be theMichael C. Rockefeller Wing. This wing, measuring about 40,000 squarefoot, is aptly named after the Nelson Rockfeller, who donated his ownpersonal art collection to the museum. The section houses arts ofAfrica, Oceania, and the Americas that means it houses some of themost diverse collections of art in the world. In total, there are11,000 pieces of art that range from sculptures, animal remnants,paintings, beaded necklaces and even ancient household items. Thehuge diversity in this collection not only emanates from the regionsthat the collection is sourced from but more so due to the inclusionof Africa (MP 2015). Africa, though assumed to have remainedbackwards in arts and art movements has some of the most interestingcultural and artistic pieces. The region is home to over 1,000 ethnicgroups that lead to different cultures, languages, way of life anddifferent cultural artifacts (Buton,French, and Jones 34).
The most impressive painting in the museum has to be The Daughters ofCatulle Mendès, Huguette (1871–1964), Claudine (1876–1937), andHelyonne (1879–1955), 1888 by French artist August Renoir. Thepainting is displayed in the European paintings section. Thepaintings in this section number around 1,700 some of which areborrowed meaning that they are on display at the museum on atemporary basis while others are permanent meaning that they can befound at the museum at any time. The particular painting featuresthree girls who by the caption of the painting and are daughters ofRenior’s friend and renowned artist, Catulle Mendès. The girls asdepicted in the painting seem to be learning or practicing music asthe apparently older one is sitting in front of a piano with an openmusic book, and the second one has a violin and the third one is justserving as the audience .
The most striking that about this painting by Renoir that caught myeye was his attempt to create three dimensional effects. Lookingclosely at the foreground, these are lines and paintbrushes meetingat an angle to create the element of depth. With looking closely, itappears that the girls are not on an even floor but one which hasgroves and ridges. While lines have been used to create depth andspace in the painting, I have not encountered a piece of paintingthat employs the technique that seems to be favored by modern dayartist that are relying on computers to make life-like 3D art. I wasimpressed that this piece of art could pass for a computer generatedversion just by the 3-D illusion applied in the painting.
This piece was an attempt to recreate Madame Georges Charpentierand Her Children, whichRenor had done earlier. This earlier picture features the MadameGeorges and her two daughters and a dog (Renor). Renor’s recreationof the latter painting seems to address growth in the family giventhat the daughters are bigger and there is a third daughter.Furthermore, the young girls have developed a passion for arts asthey are playing musical instruments unlike in the earlier paintingwhere they are just sitting around their mum with one of the girlsliterally sitting on the dog that is lying unperturbed on the floor(Pierre-Auguste Renoir Complete works). In spite of such paintingskills and the strong themes of family displayed in the painting, itonly gained recognition later after the first two exhibitions in 1888and 1890 turned out disastrous with the painting totally ignored. Forme, such accompanying stories of great artists portray them asordinary human beings who go through life’s struggles just like therest of us. This gives me hope in life and as an artist that thingswill eventually turn out great and that I should not give up yet.
The exercise was refreshing.Having to learn the history of museum besides the histories that themuseum seeks to tell is interesting, it calls for an inward look atart itself. In fact, this concept has been so strong in mind that Ihave found myself examining not only the material on which a pieceart is made but also the frames on pieces of painting. I have askedmyself this should the frame be part and parcel of painting or not?”thus I believe I have learned a lot through the exercise and I planto use the new knowledge not only in my studies but also practically.
Buton,Margie, French, Cathy and Jones, Tammy, Art Aroundthe World. New York,Penguin.
MetropolitanMeseum of Art, new York. 2015. Web
Pierre-AugusteRenoir Complete works. 2015. Web.
Pierre-AugusteRenoir French Draftsman and Painter 2015. Web.
Renor,A. (1888). The Daughters of Catulle Mendès, Huguette (1871–1964),Claudine (1876–
1937), and Helyonne (1879–1955),1888. Web. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1998.325.3>
Renor,August, Madame Georges Charpentier (Marguérite-LouiseLemonnier, 1848–1904) and
Her Children, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) andPaul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895).N.d. web. <Retrieved fromhttp://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/438815>