(December 12, 2000)—John K. Howat, the longtime Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the Departments of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has announced his plans to retire from the Museum effective March 1, it was reported today by Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan.
Mr. Howat, who has served in curatorial positions at the Metropolitan for more than 33 years, during which time he led the major effort to expand the Museum's American Wing, will have capped his career at the Met by supervising one of the most ambitious special exhibitions ever mounted by his department—Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861, which is on view through January 7.
"Jock Howat has left an indelible mark at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," Mr. de Montebello said in announcing the retirement. "Under his strong and creative leadership, the collections of American art and the galleries to exhibit them have grown exponentially. His considerable accomplishments at the Met are certain to benefit generations of future museum visitors. I know that Jock's many grateful colleagues here, who will miss him enormously, join me in expressing gratitude for his lifetime of devotion to this institution."
Mr. de Montebello said he would announce the appointment of Mr. Howat's successor following the next meeting of the Board of Trustees on January 9.
Mr. Howat commented: "During the 33 years that I have been on the staff of the Metropolitan Museum, I have enjoyed to the fullest the multifarious tasks of curatorial work. Few members of the public understand how diverse such a career is, involving scholarship, connoisseurship, knowledge of the art market, collecting, writing for publication, arranging permanent installations as well as temporary exhibitions, public relations, fundraising, and administration among the broad range of activities.
"My time at the Metropolitan has been exhilarating, occasionally terrifying, and always interesting," he continued. "Colleagues here and at sister institutions, Metropolitan Museum Trustees, supporters of the Museum, and members of the public have all provided me and my family with many lasting friendships that we treasure. I feel very lucky to have been able to pursue a curatorial career, serving the public, which at the same time has provided me with a splendid hobby. To have enjoyed both within the magnificent halls of the Metropolitan Museum is a blessing for which I am very grateful."
Born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in La Jolla, California, John K. Howat was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard (B.A., 1959, M.A., 1962). After two years as curator at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, and another year as a Chester Dale Fellow at the Met, he joined the staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 as Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture. He was promoted to Associate Curator in charge of the department the following year, and to Curator in 1970. In 1982, he was elected Chairman of the newly combined Departments of American Art, a position endowed in 1983 as the Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairmanship.
Mr. Howat's principal focus over the course of his three decades at the Metropolitan has been the construction and installation of the much-expanded American Wing, which was completed in 1980, followed by the opening of the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, which opened in 1988.
In 1982 he established the William Cullen Bryant Fellows, whose annual contributions underwrite American Wing publications—numbering some two dozen exhibition and collections catalogues to date.
A recognized expert on American landscape painting, Mr. Howat is also the author of The Hudson River School and Its Painters (Viking Press, 1972), as well as a forthcoming biography of Frederic Edwin Church and numerous articles and essays on 19th-century American art. Most recently he authored "Private Collectors and Public Spirit: A Selective View" for the catalogue Art and the Empire City, which Mr. Howat also co-edited with Catherine Hoover Voorsanger.
Among his other scholarly contributions, he also edited The World of the Hudson River School (1987), for which he wrote the article "A Climate for Landscape Painters"; co-authored 19th Century America: Paintings and Sculpture (1970); and co-authored the introduction to the 1973 catalogue American Impressionist and Realist Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz.
In addition to his work in co-organizing the current exhibition Art and the Empire City, Mr. Howat was responsible for American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School (1987), American Masterpieces (1976), and some 13 additional exhibitions and installations at the Metropolitan Museum.
Mr. Howat supervised the installation of the new American Wing in 1980, and the Luce Center in 1988. Housing one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of American art in existence, the department holds more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, dating from the 17th to the 20th century, most which are accessible to the public on four floors of gallery and study areas. The American Wing also features 25 furnished period rooms that offer an unparalleled view of American domestic architecture. It also offers visitors one of the Museum's most beloved spaces, the Charles Engelhard Court.
Mr. Howat, who serves on the editorial board of the American Art Journal and as trustee and vice president of the Archives of American Art, won the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History from the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in 2000.