Sneak Peek: Met Museum Debuts Revamped American Galleries

The re-opening caps the end of a 10-year-renovation process

Friday, January 13, 2012 - 12:00 PM

Colonial works lean toward formal portraiture. By the 19th century, natural landscapes and daily life began making an appearance -- as in this 1845 painting of fur traders by George Caleb Bingham. (Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

For the past decade, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been giving the American Wing a thorough renovation. On Monday, the museum will be drawing back the curtain on the final phase of the project: 26 new second-floor paintings galleries that contain some of the best-known treasures of American art, many of which have not been seen in the past four years.

The new spaces are airy and light (the ceilings have literally been raised) -- admitting diffused daylight through strategically-placed skylights in rooms that conserve the building's classic Beaux Arts lines. The exhibition opens with art from the Colonial era and then plunges the viewer into a web of spaces stuffed with everything from portraiture to genre paintings to idyllic natural landscapes.

It is like taking a trip through American history: from the Revolution, through Westward expansion and the subjugation of American Indian ethnicities, the wrenching Civil War years and the glory days of the late industrial Age. With iconic paintings by John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Albert Bierstadt, John Singer Sargent and countless others, walking through the wing is like being in the company of old friends.

Best-in-show, however, goes to Emanuel Leuntze's house-sized painting of "Washington Crossing the Delaware." It is majestic and overwhelming and propagandistic and irresistible. And like so much in these galleries, you may think you know it, but you really don't.

The New American Wing opens on Monday, January 16.

Carolina A. Miranda
On Monday, the Met opens the doors on its new suite of galleries devoted to American painting. The museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of American art in the world.
Carolina A. Miranda
On view once again are works by one of the country's finest Colonial portraitists, John Singleton Copley. Seen here: a 1773 portrait of Mrs. John Winthrop. (Looks like a saucy gal!)
Carolina A. Miranda
Apparently, during the days of the colony, people really liked to point. Shown here: "Portrait of Capt. John Gell" by Gilbert Stuart and merchant "Marinus Willett," by Ralph Earl.
Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, new York
The reinstallation includes period rooms, such as this late 18th century dining hall from Albany, New York.
Carolina A. Miranda
Though the galleries focus on painting, there are incredible examples of sculpture throughout -- such as this bust of Benjamin Franklin by Jean-Antoine Houdon, from 1778.
Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Colonial works lean toward formal portraiture. By the 19th century, natural landscapes and daily life began making an appearance -- as in this 1845 painting of fur traders by George Caleb Bingham.
Carolina A. Miranda
The big showstopper here is undoubtedly Emanuel Leutze's massive 1851 canvas depicting George Washington crossing the Delaware. A total jaw-dropper.
Carolina A. Miranda
Near Leutze's piece stands this incredibly lifelike marble bust of Andrew Jackson from 1839, carved by Hiram Powers.
Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The collection includes decorative pieces, such as this easy chair from 1758, crafted by Caleb Gardner.
Carolina A. Miranda
Augustus Saint-Gaudens 1893-94 sculpture of Diana graces the Impressionist gallery. A large version of this once capped Madison Square Garden and stands in the sculpture court leading to the new wing.
Carolina A. Miranda
Seeing some of these works is like visiting old friends -- such as this John Singer Sargent portrait "Mrs. Phelps Stokes" from 1897, which still looks wonderfully fresh.
Carolina A. Miranda
The museum has an extraordinary collection of works by John Singer Sargent. This painting of an incredibly hot priest (my fetish), from 1905-06, was new to me.
Carolina A. Miranda
The skylights in the new galleries admit a wonderfully diffused natural daylight. In this image, Ralph Waldo Emerson (cast by Daniel Chester French) surveys the scene.
Carolina A. Miranda
The romantic ideal of the American West was established in the 1800s, by painters such as Albert Bierstadt. Here, he depicts a river valley in Yosemite in 1866.
Carolina A. Miranda
Westward expansion wasn't romantic for everybody, namely the countless native peoples who were killed and relocated -- a sentiment captured in this 1919 bronze by James Earle Fraser.
Carolina A. Miranda
In the late 19th century, Civil War themes emerge. Here, a bronze of Lincoln by Augustus Saint-Gaudens stands in a gallery that depicts aspects of slavery and the black experience.
Carolina A. Miranda
In this 1879 painting, Thomas Anshutz shows a moment of daily, rural life. Representations of African Americans in American art are rare until this period.
Carolina A. Miranda
Particularly striking (and reflecting on race themes) is this 1899 canvas by Winslow Homer, showing an African American man in a rudderless boat, surrounded by sharks.
Carolina A. Miranda
Thomas Cole was known for his idyllic depictions of nature. Here is a detail from a larger work, from 1895, in which he paints himself into the scene (a Hudson River School version of an Easter Egg).
Carolina A. Miranda
The Gilded Age resulted in striking, naturalistic portraiture on a grand scale. Seen here: Thomas Eakins' "The Thinker: Portrait of Louis N. Kenton" from 1900.
Carolina A. Miranda
Stacy Tolman's "The Etcher" (1887-89) was part of a wave of works from the period that showed artists at work.
Carolina A. Miranda
The galleries include a room devoted to folk art from various eras. A painting by Thomas Chambers from the 1840s stands next to a painted wood sculpture of Andrew Jackson (1860) by William Rumney.
Carolina A. Mirnada
The Met's folk art section has several long-term loans from the American Folk Art Museum, such as Ammi Phillips' 1830-35 painting of a girl in a red dress holding a cat.
The exhibit contained countless surprises, but this one really stuck with me -- an 1862 painting by Sanford R. Gifford of Fort Federal Hill that consists almost entirely of the rich hues of a sunset.

Looking almost like a precursor to this iconic 20th century painting by Ed Ruscha.


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Comments [1]

Steve Giovinco from New York

The trove of American paintings have been closed for a few years and am looking forward to the reopening--I hoped it was this weekend...

Jan. 14 2012 10:09 AM

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About Gallerina

Carolina A. Miranda is a regular contributor to WNYC and blogs about the arts for the station as "Gallerina." In addition to that, she contributes articles on culture, travel and the arts to a variety of national and regional media, including Time, ArtNews, Travel + Leisure and Budget Travel and Florida Travel + Life. She has reported on the burgeoning industry of skatepark design, architectural pedagogy in Southern California, the presence of street art in museums and Lima's burgeoning food scene, among many other subjects. In 2008, she was named one of eight fellows in the USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program for her arts and architecture blog, which has received mentions in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. In January of 2010, the Times named her one of nine people to follow on Twitter. Got a tip? E-mail her at c [@] c-monster [dot] net


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