The Metropolitan is home to the finest collection of Dutch art outside of Europe. This major exhibition, which coincides with the publication of the first catalogue of the collection, presents the Museum's entire collection of Dutch paintings (ca. 1600–1800) in approximate order of acquisition, from the founding purchase of 1871, to the major gifts and bequests of the 1880s through the 1940s, and finally to the strategic accessions of the 1950s onward. Reflecting how the Museum's great collection of Dutch paintings is closely linked with the institution's history, the installation outlines how the collection was formed, following the taste for Dutch art in America and among New York's great collectors.
Many of the 174 paintings acquired in the "1871 Purchase" made by the Museum were from the Dutch school, including masterworks such as Jan van Goyen's View of Haarlem and the Haarlemmer Meer and Salomon van Ruysdael's Drawing the Eel. These paintings were coveted on both sides of the Atlantic and secured the young Museum an "enviably solid foundation for future acquisition and development," as Henry James wrote in a well-known essay published in the Atlantic Monthly in the summer of 1872.
Despite the Museum's ambitious beginnings, not many paintings were acquired for another decade, due to one of the worst depressions in American history, which took place in 1873. Over the next ten years, however, industry boomed in America, trade flourished, and the rise of private income gave way to the new millionaires of the Gilded Age (ca. 1875–1900). The most important collectors of this period for the Museum—such as Henry Marquand, J. P. Morgan, and Louisine and H. O. Havemeyer—sought out masterpieces by Rembrandt, Hals, Vermeer, and Ruisdael, among other Dutch artists. Dutch pictures had been favored by collectors in England, France, and Germany throughout the nineteenth century, but their appeal in the United States was intensified by the notion that American values—democracy, closeness to nature, family life, and the "Protestant ethic" of hard work—were anticipated by the middle-class society of the Dutch Republic. During this period, Rembrandt's Self-portrait, Vermeer's Young Woman with a Water Pitcher and A Maid Asleep, Hals's Merrymakers at Shrovetide, Portrait of a Man, Young Man and Woman in an Inn ("Yonker Ramp and his Sweetheart"), Van Ruisdael's Wheatfields, and Aelbert Cuyp's Young Herdsman with Cows all entered the Museum's collection.
The contributions of later collectors and contributors—such as Benjamin Altman (whose Rembrandts, Halses, and early Vermeer are grouped together), Arabella Huntington, William K. Vanderbilt, Jules Bache, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, and Jack and Belle Linsky—and of curators and directors, are acknowledged frequently throughout the exhibition. The last gallery features works acquired since about 1960, including Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, the only Rembrandt painting ever purchased by the Metropolitan Museum, Vermeer's Study of a Young Woman, Steen's The Dissolute Household, and De Witte's Interior of the Old Church in Delft.
The exhibition is made possible by Accenture.
The catalogue is made possible by Hata Stichting Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Zukerman.
Additional support is provided by the Kowitz Family Foundation and The Christian Humann Foundation.
The Bulletin is supported by Hata Stichting Foundation and is also made possible through the generosity of the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader's Digest.