These second-floor galleries offer the principal display of the American Wing's magisterial collections of paintings, small-scale sculpture, and eighteenth-century silver. The Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Galleries of Eighteenth-Century American Art (747–754) are devoted to paintings and architecture, furniture, silver, and other decorative arts. The Joan Whitney Payson Galleries (755–772) provide thematic groupings, in a broadly chronological order, of paintings and sculpture of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. All of the galleries, with their coved or barrel-vaulted ceilings, skylights, oak floors, and limestone trim, pay contemporary homage to traditional Beaux-Arts museum design.
Anthony W. and Lulu C. Wang Galleries of Eighteenth-Century American Art
Gallery 747: Colonial Portraiture, 1730–76
The George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Galleries
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, portraiture was firmly established in colonial American cities as an art form embodying the ideals and tastes of a wealthy society. This gallery includes examples by the Scottish émigré John Smibert—who arrived in Rhode Island in 1729 with considerable skills and academic training and settled in Boston—as well as by America's first eminent native-born painter, John Singleton Copley, who created opulent images that captured his sitters' hopes and values on the eve of the American Revolution. The approaching war deprived many native-born artists of the opportunity to receive formal training in European artistic traditions. Still, the most ambitious followed Benjamin West to London, where his studio became the leading school for aspiring American painters.
Gallery 748: John Singleton Copley
The George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Galleries
More portraits by John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) grace this gallery. Before leaving his native Boston for England in 1774, Copley had become the leading portraitist of the colonial era. Throughout New England and New York, he depicted contemporary merchant princes, political leaders, clergymen, and their wives and children. Taking his cues from John Smibert and Joseph Blackburn, whom he quickly surpassed in skill and ingenuity, Copley studied mezzotints after contemporary British canvases the better to serve his discriminating Anglophile clients—American noblewomen of intelligence and high character and men who appreciated his gift for conveying aristocratic elegance and gentility. His career was a triumph, and he later established a highly successful practice as a portraitist and history painter in London. Hanging from the vaulted ceiling is William Rush's grand-scale carved-and-gilded eagle in full flight.
Gallery 749: Life in America, 1700–1800
Joyce B. Cowin Gallery
American colonists, like people of many periods and cultures, cherished bright colors and ornament. Decorative painting on walls and furniture, woven or embroidered textiles, and drawings and engravings on paper were the principal vehicles by which they expressed this taste. A selection of precious survivals from the eighteenth century is displayed in this gallery, on a rotating basis in the case of light-sensitive materials. Textiles include quilts, coverlets, and bed hangings; needlework samplers and pictures; and upholstery on furniture. Works on paper range from exquisitely drawn pastel portraits by the likes of John Singleton Copley to engraved representations of historical events, such as those by Paul Revere.
Gallery 750: Silver, 1660–1800
Roy J. Zuckerberg Gallery
The American Wing's finest seventeenth- and eighteenth-century silver is presented in this treasury of domestic, ecclesiastical, and presentation objects. The earliest feature fluted gadrooning, engraving, and cast or embossed ornament reflecting late Renaissance and Baroque traditions. Lighter, more curvilinear Rococo designs predominate during the 1760s and 1770s, followed by a return to order and restraint with the arrival of Neoclassicism in the post-Revolutionary period. Americans presented communion silver to their houses of worship and commissioned vessels to mark special occasions. Appropriately inscribed, silver was, and remains, the ideal choice for honoring personal, civic, and professional accomplishments. As a tangible index of social standing, it has always represented financial security and sophisticated taste. American silver of the seventeenth through early twentieth century is also displayed on the balconies of The Charles Engelhard Court (704, 705, and 706).
Gallery 751: Late Colonial Furniture, 1730–90
The furniture in this gallery, mostly mid-eighteenth-century cabinetwork—chests, desks, and clock cases—was heavily influenced by the classically inspired architecture of the houses for which it was intended. The scroll pediments that often cap the best of the high chests and chests-on-chests echo the serpentine curves atop fancy front doorways. (An example from the Connecticut River valley is installed here on one wall.) The most prestigious and, indeed, the most uniquely American of these pedimented case pieces was the high chest of drawers, or "highboy," raised on tall, gracefully curved legs. More furniture of this period can be seen in galleries 717 and 719.
Gallery 752: Van Rensselaer Hall Albany, New York, 1765–69
The Virginia and Leonard Marx Gallery
The Anglo-Palladian manor house built over a four-year period by Stephen Van Rensselaer II on the outskirts of Albany after his marriage to Catherine Livingston in 1764 was public confirmation that British culture had finally, a full century after the takeover of New Amsterdam in 1664, supplanted that of the Dutch in the Hudson River valley. Until then, the Van Rensselaers, among the earliest Dutch settlers of New York and long the region's largest landowners, had lived, like their tenants, in traditional Dutch farmhouses (see the New York Dutch Room). The new manor's entrance hall, the grandest and best preserved of all domestic interiors from the New York colony, proudly aped London's version of the French Rococo. The woodwork includes leafy carved panels taken from a just-published carvers' design book. The grisaille wallpaper—the decorative program includes depictions of classical Roman landscapes and the four seasons, all within elaborate frames—was hand painted in London specifically for the room. This was as close as an American colonist could get to collecting and decorating with framed European oil paintings.
Gallery 753: Era of the Revolution, 1776–1800
The George M. and Linda H. Kaufman Galleries
American colonists had a fierce sense of their privileges as English subjects, and, over time, they developed a distinctly American understanding of their rights and liberties and were willing to fight for them. The paintings seen in this gallery express the pride of a young nation born of revolution and celebrate its heroes and hard-fought battles. Following their study abroad, the American painters Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart returned from London to the United States, where they made life portraits of George Washington to exalt him in his roles as war hero and chief executive of the United States. His image, reproduced frequently in paintings, sculpture, and other media, symbolized the legitimacy of the newly independent nation and embodied the ideals of honesty, virtue, and patriotism. The first American-born artist to gain international prominence, Benjamin West, working in London, advanced the genre by painting scenes from contemporary history.
Gallery 754: Portraits in Miniature, 1750–1920
The tradition of miniature painting—tiny watercolor portraits on ivory—emerged in America in the eighteenth century. Based on European models, portrait miniatures are related to ancient and medieval devotional paintings and illuminated manuscripts. Originally made to be worn or carried, each is inextricably tied to its function as memento, love token, or reliquary. The works in this gallery portray husbands, wives, lovers, and children, both living and dead, and commemorate births, deaths, and marriages. The miniatures have been placed in a range of mounts, including metal lockets, other types of jewelry, and pocket-sized leather cases. After the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, many miniaturists abandoned their art, but some chose to compete with photography. A later revival of the tradition endured into the early decades of the twentieth century.
The Joan Whitney Payson Galleries
Gallery 755: Faces of the Young Republic, 1789–1800
The struggle for independence had isolated the colonies artistically as well economically, but the years following the cessation of hostilities with Britain were ones of steady growth and, beginning in 1785, saw the return from London of the country's most talented artists. Gilbert Stuart rose to prominence as America's leading urban portraitist, while Ralph Earl offered his considerable talents to the country's emerging rural middle class. The proud new citizens of the United States had much to celebrate in their domestic, commercial, and professional lives in the post-Revolutionary period, and many commissioned portraits—such as those seen in this gallery—that reflected their patriotism as well as their social status.
Gallery 756: Portraiture and Still Life, 1800–1850
In the early nineteenth century, portraiture remained the focus for younger artists such as Thomas Sully and Samuel F. B. Morse, who executed portraits in the grand manner and in a painterly style. The best American portraitists of the Victorian era aimed for something more than straightforward likenesses—they painted fancy pictures, not just of individuals but of social types such as street vendors, that often contained poetic or provocative elements. Members of the Peale family of Philadelphia introduced still life as a worthy subject and highlighted both imported luxury goods and locally grown fruits and vegetables in their meticulously rendered paintings. Nature's bounty took on an exaggerated quality in the profusely abundant still lifes of the German-born Severin Roesen.
Gallery 757: Art in the Folk Tradition, 1800–1900
Barbara and Martha Fleischman Gallery
The Museum's collection of folk art—represented by many of the works in this gallery—was largely established in 1980 by the bequest of Colonel Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, who, like many collectors in the field, discovered folk art through twentieth-century eyes. The term "folk art" refers to a broad range of artistic approaches that are nevertheless unified by conventions of method, aesthetics, and circumstance. Most folk artists were, in fact, highly trained and multitalented, even though they spent their careers moving from place to place courting local audiences. Almost all favored strong colors, broad paint application, patterned surfaces, and skewed scale and proportion. They developed compositional formulas that allowed them to work quickly, with limited materials and in makeshift studios. With the introduction of photography in 1839, some folk artists rose to the challenge by embracing the new medium—themselves becoming photographers—and some by continuing to compete with it.
Gallery 758: Life in America, 1830–60
Alice-Cary and W. L. Lyons Brown Gallery
During the decades leading up to the Civil War, American artists adopted new modes of pictorial storytelling, primarily in the form of genre paintings featuring narratives that the growing audiences for art could easily understand. The paintings on view in this gallery are characterized by clearly delineated forms and compositions and are often humorous, didactic, or moralizing. Domestic scenes of lower- and middle-class characters were often inspired by Dutch old masters or more recent French and British popular prints. Such universal themes as childhood, marriage, family, and community persisted in paintings by Francis William Edmonds and Lilly Martin Spencer, while the everyday functioning of our democracy—political elections, attitudes toward race and immigration, the frontier as reality and myth—was explored and depicted in works by William Sydney Mount and George Caleb Bingham.
Gallery 759: Emergence of the Hudson River School, 1815–50
Jack and Susan Warner Gallery
The term Hudson River School, first used in the 1870s as a dismissive epithet, is now generally accepted as an appropriate description of the dominant artistic vision that held sway in the United States from 1825 until 1875. The original, loosely knit group of artists and writers rose to prominence in New York City during the early nineteenth century. With Thomas Cole as their leader, they created an American landscape vision based on the exploration of nature, seen as a resource for spiritual renewal and an expression of cultural and national identity. The first painter to portray America in its wilderness state, Cole, with his early views of the Northeast, inspired successive generations of artists to embrace heroic landscape subjects grounded in the notion that what defined Americans was their relationship with the land.
Gallery 760: History, Landscape, and National Identity, 1850–75
Peter Jay Sharp Foundation Gallery
After 1850, artists of the Hudson River School looked for inspiration farther from home, seeking to measure the experience of their own regional and national landscapes against wilderness experiences in the West, the Arctic, and the Andes. They also traveled to Europe, confronting and interpreting long-venerated Old World sites. During the Civil War era, landscape painting attained unprecedented status in American art. Leading artists, including Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, employed larger canvases to promote expanding notions of landscape that rivaled history paintings (such as Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware) in both scale and message. Their entrepreneurial spirit resulted in the "great picture"—a reference to size but also to the maker's ambitions, America's cultural aspirations of eminent domain, and the quest to preserve the Union. Artists showed large paintings—as well as sculptures—in theatrical settings and charged admission to see them. More Neoclassical sculpture of this period is on view in The Charles Engelhard Court (700 and 701).
Gallery 761: Late Hudson River School, 1860–80
Thomas and Georgia Gosnell Gallery
Light became the virtual subject for many artists of the later Hudson River School, whose work is displayed in this gallery. Several trends in European art had an impact on American painters, who traveled to the Old World in greater numbers than ever before. Inspired by French Barbizon painting, George Inness strove "to awaken an emotion" with his compositions' fragile beauty and restrained harmonies of color. In addition, new scientific theories involving natural law—foremost among them Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859)—contributed to the changes in landscape art. In their preoccupation with light, these painters articulated simultaneously their interest in naturalistic effects and their perception of the spiritual essence of nature. They chose subjects closer to home, for an emerging vacationing class, that expressed the country's nostalgia for the waning wilderness. Likewise, sculptors embraced a new Realist aesthetic, modeling distinctly American subjects whose democratic overtones appealed to their clientele.
Gallery 762: Civil War Era, 1860–80
Peter M. Sacerdote Gallery
Although members of the Hudson River School such as Sanford R. Gifford painted eyewitness accounts of the Civil War (1861–65) that emphasized landscape, the war generally coincided with a resurgence in figural art. Examples of both tendencies are displayed in this gallery. In painting, the figural trend was represented most vigorously by Winslow Homer, who visited the Union front as an artist-correspondent for the popular magazine Harper's Weekly. After the war, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and other sculptors produced portrait busts and statues to commemorate its heroes and martyrs. Painters and sculptors alike also found subjects in the nascent liberty and continuing poverty of America's former slaves.
Gallery 763: Life in America, 1860–80
The confluence of charged political and economic events and profound social change during and after the Civil War created such turmoil that many artists chose to examine only small, reassuring slices of the human experience. Some depicted women grappling with the new roles and responsibilities left to them after the loss of so many men in combat. Others portrayed children, thereby expressing a longing for prewar innocence or embracing the commemorative atmosphere associated with the nation's Centennial. As the agrarian basis of American life yielded to urbanization and industrialization, artists who lived, studied, worked, and sought patronage in cities celebrated old-fashioned rural locales and seaside resorts as retreats from urban existence.
Gallery 764: In the Artist's Studio, 1865–1900
As a glance around this gallery confirms, portrayals of artists, craftsmen, and scientists at work were popular during the late nineteenth century. Not only did professionalism in all lines of work burgeon, but American artists themselves became self-consciously professional, and nostalgia grew for fast-fading handicraft traditions. Underscoring the importance of the studio environment, painters of still lifes concentrated on artificial setups of manufactured objects rather than on nature's bounty, which their predecessors had described (see 756). The most imitated and skillful post–Civil War still-life specialist was William Michael Harnett, who painted many tabletop arrangements and pushed to its limits the art of trompe l'oeil ("trick the eye"), depicting three-dimensional objects convincingly on a two-dimensional plane.
Gallery 765: The West, 1860–1920
Beginning in the 1820s, the American West inspired artists to explore its vast thematic potential, from the breathtaking beauty of the landscape to the gripping adventures of scouts and trappers. After the Civil War, industrialization and urbanization fueled a market for art that mythologized the vanishing frontier, while the saturation of American culture with genteel sentimentality inspired a countervailing yearning for heroes who tested their manhood in dangerous lands. Frederic Remington and other painters and sculptors represented in this gallery celebrated cowboys and cavalrymen, who also emerged as stars of fiction, the popular press, and motion pictures. At the same time, the government's slaughter of the buffalo herds and the decimation and relocation of native peoples encouraged artists to glorify endangered animals and to commemorate American Indians as a noble, doomed race.
Gallery 766: The Cosmopolitan Spirit, 1860–1900
In the late nineteenth century, the taste of American viewers and collectors changed in response to their expanded opportunities for travel; ready access to prints, photographs, and illustrations in magazines and journals; and familiarity with art in newly founded museums. As this audience, principally in the prosperous industrial Northeast, came to value contemporary Continental—especially French—art, American artists working in all media lived and studied abroad and investigated a wide range of subjects and styles in order to attract patronage. Operating in an increasingly professional and complex art world, they found their prospects enhanced for displaying and marketing their works on both sides of the Atlantic. Their new range, sophistication, and ambitions are apparent in this gallery.
Gallery 767: Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins
Margaret and Raymond J. Horowitz Galleries
This gallery contains some of the most brilliant and iconic works in the history of American painting. Like the poet and journalist Walt Whitman, Winslow Homer (1836–1910) and Thomas Eakins (1844–1916) traced an arc from anecdotal accounts of American life to meditations on universal themes. Relocating in 1883 from New York City to Prout's Neck, Maine, Homer continuously observed and recorded the sea under different conditions of light and weather. After 1890, he generally abandoned narrative to concentrate on the beauty and power of the sea itself. American sculptors also celebrated New England as the nation's reassuring cultural bedrock. Just after the Civil War, Eakins pioneered the pursuit by Americans of instruction in the art academies of Paris. He then returned to Philadelphia, where he ingeniously applied to local, modern subjects the lessons he had learned from his European contemporaries and from the old masters. Eakins's psychologically probing portraits constitute a serious exploration of American character at the turn of the twentieth century.
Gallery 768: Images of Women, 1880–1910
Richard and Maureen Chilton Gallery
Around 1900, refined women were favored subjects of many American artists. The works in this gallery reflect the contemporary notion that a woman's proper sphere was within a harmonious interior, absorbed in cultivated pastimes, or in a sheltered outdoor setting, engaged in leisure activities. These works also suggest the wide range of styles that artists enlisted to depict their genteel subjects. Women artists were especially successful in describing women's activities at first hand. Among them were the painter, pastellist, and printmaker Mary Cassatt, who settled in Paris in 1874, responded to the influence of the French Impressionists, and became the only American to participate in their exhibitions; and the sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh, who worked principally in New York and produced statuettes of women in conventional roles.
Gallery 769: American Impressionism, 1880–1920
The Frank A. Cosgrove Jr. Gallery
While the expatriates Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent experimented with Impressionism in Paris in the late 1870s under the influence of their French counterparts, William Merritt Chase was the first artist to produce Impressionist views in the United States. His scenes of New York's public parks of the mid-1880s were inspired in part by French Impressionist works on view in American exhibitions. His light-filled canvases of the 1890s, painted at Shinnecock, New York, on the eastern end of Long Island, celebrated modern city dwellers' leisure activities in their new country retreats. Childe Hassam adopted the Impressionists' subjects and style during his student years in Paris, from 1886 to 1889. Upon his return home, he became the leading Impressionist chronicler of New York and New England.
Gallery 770: American Impressionism, 1880–1920
Margaret and Raymond J. Horowitz Galleries
Having met Claude Monet in Paris, probably in 1876, the expatriate John Singer Sargent was inspired to experiment with Impressionism. Throughout his successful career as a portraitist headquartered in London (as evidenced in 771), Sargent would always refresh his studio work by painting out of doors in both oils and watercolors. By 1887 several other American artists had been attracted to Giverny, on the Seine about fifty miles northwest of Paris, initially by its charm and then by the presence of Monet, who had settled in the village in May 1883 (Sargent also called on Monet there in the 1880s). Theodore Robinson became the leader of the American Giverny group, first visiting in 1885 and spending months there annually from 1887 until 1892. Back in the United States, Robinson and Childe Hassam shared their enthusiasm for French Impressionism with their American colleagues, including John H. Twachtman and J. Alden Weir, who became converts to the style.
Gallery 771: Portraiture in the Grand Manner, 1880–1900
Terian Family Gallery
After the Civil War, the United States experienced profound changes, including rapid economic expansion and population growth, and emerged as a world power. Great wealth and a desire for conspicuous display characterized the period, which has been called the Gilded Age. American artists studied abroad, especially in Paris and Munich, and then competed with their European contemporaries for portrait commissions from American patrons. Both the patrons and painters were also aware of the mode of portraiture prevalent in Great Britain, which was at the apex of its imperial influence and prestige. John Singer Sargent, the quintessential American cosmopolite, was born in Italy, studied and worked in Paris, and operated thereafter with equal success in London, Boston, and New York. This gallery is a testament to the ability of Sargent and his contemporaries to capture on canvas the personalities of their intriguing acquaintances as well as their paying patrons.
Gallery 772: Ashcan Painters and Their Circle, 1900–1920
Jan and Warren Adelson Gallery
Beginning around 1900, a group of Realist painters advocated forthright depictions of urban life but typically took a cheerful approach to portraying urban hardships. Their leader, Robert Henri, had begun his career as a painter and teacher in Philadelphia. There, he became a mentor to George Luks, William Glackens, John Sloan, and Everett Shinn, all of whom worked as newspaper illustrators and, with Henri, moved to New York between 1896 and 1904. These artists came to be called the Ashcan School after a drawing by Henri's student George Bellows that was published in 1915. Henri and his associates showed together in several key exhibitions, including the landmark 1908 show at New York's Macbeth Galleries of the group known as the Eight, which also included Ernest Lawson, Maurice Prendergast, and Arthur B. Davies. Works by all of the Eight are represented in this gallery.
The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study
of American Art
Galleries 773 and 774—Mezzanine
Originally opened in 1988, The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art is the American Wing's visible-storage facility for works that are not on view in the galleries because of space limitations or other considerations. The center is completely accessible to the public, even though it is the actual working storage facility used by the American Wing's curatorial staff. Virtually the only objects that cannot be seen either here or in the galleries are those on temporary loan to other institutions, those currently undergoing conservation treatments, and light-sensitive works on paper and textiles, which can be seen by appointment.
Reached from the glass elevator in The Charles Engelhard Court or via the Mezzanine Balcony, the Luce Center houses more than ten thousand works of American fine and decorative art. Within forty-five floor-to-ceiling glass cases, objects are arranged by material or type (paintings, sculpture, furniture and woodwork, glass, ceramics, silver, and metalwork) and, within those categories, by date and form. Visible storage allows visitors to examine multiple versions of a form and to understand how it has evolved; for example, the unparalleled collection of chairs displayed in the Luce Center offers a visual history of American seating furniture from the early colonial period to Frank Lloyd Wright.
Other Luce Center highlights include the collection of more than one thousand pieces of American silver; exquisite examples of blown glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany; and a rotating selection of vintage baseball cards. Along one side of the entrance corridor are some of the center's computer stations, which contain individual in-depth records for all American Wing objects. Indeed, these terminals can be used as a starting point for exploring what you might want to see not only in the Luce Center but throughout the American Wing. If you are interested in American silver, a search for "silver teapot" provides images and locations for all such teapots in the collection and can be the basis for a self-directed tour. Additionally, there are areas to sit and rest in the center, with wireless connectivity throughout, so you can use your own device to access the Museum's online resources.
The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art is made possible by The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc. The Luce Center at the Metropolitan was the first of several visible-storage centers funded by the Luce Foundation.
These gallery descriptions are excerpted from the new illustrated handbook The American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Walking Guide, published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Scala Publishers Limited (2012).