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.