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After Three Decades as Director, Philippe de Montebello Announces Retirement from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(New York, January 8, 2008)—The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that Philippe de Montebello—whose long and storied career at the Museum has spanned nearly a third of the institution's entire history—will retire after more than 30 years as its eighth, and longest-serving, Director. Mr. de Montebello, who first joined the staff as a curatorial assistant in 1963, became Director in 1977, and assumed the additional role of Chief Executive Officer in 1998, plans to step down by December 31, 2008.

"To say that his decision marks the end of an era surely constitutes one of the great understatements, not only in the Museum's life, but in the cultural life of the city, the state, the nation, and the world," said James R. Houghton, Chairman of the Metropolitan's Board of Trustees. "Philippe de Montebello's manifest contributions to the Met span four decades bridging two different centuries. He leaves an incomparable legacy of accomplishment that has significantly enhanced the institution and brilliantly served its vast international public. No museum director anywhere has done more to expand and enrich the appreciation of art for more generations and with greater taste, erudition, diplomacy, and vision than Philippe de Montebello. As much as we regret his planned departure, we join in celebrating achievements that will sustain the Metropolitan—its collections, its programs, and its magnificent galleries—for generations to come."

In a letter to the Board of Trustees, which was formally presented at the January meeting of the Board this afternoon, Mr. de Montebello indicated that he was prepared to remain in his post until the end of the 2008 calendar year, or until a successor is found. "I reach this decision," he added, "confident that I leave the Metropolitan well-positioned to thrive long into the 21st century." The Director announced his plans to the Museum's senior staff this evening, following the Board meeting, and is scheduled to repeat the announcement to a meeting of about 500 curators and managers on Wednesday morning.

Mr. Houghton also announced today the formation of a Trustees Search Committee to begin the process of selecting a new museum Director. Annette de la Renta and S. Parker Gilbert, who both serve as Vice Chairmen of the Board, will be chair and vice chair of the committee, respectively. Committee members will be: Daniel Brodsky, Russell Carson, Robert Joffe, Susana Torruella Leval, Cynthia Hazen Polsky, Frank Richardson, James Shipp, Lulu Wang, and Shelby White. Mr. Houghton will serve as an ex-officio member of the committee.

Commented Mr. de Montebello in submitting his letter to the Trustees: "Difficult as it is to contemplate life away from an institution to which I have devoted all but a few seasons of my professional life, I know that the time is right for both my own—and the Museum's—inevitable transition. And as much as I cherish my 40 years at the Met, and will miss it enormously, I look forward to many more years of contributing my ideas, and my voice, to the goal that has guided me from the beginning of my career: namely, the enhancement of society's knowledge and appreciation of man's highest artistic achievements."

"At this juncture," he added, "my thoughts turn with profound gratitude to the many mentors who encouraged me from my earliest days here; to the unstinting confidence and support of a truly exemplary Board of Trustees; and not least, to the dedication, professionalism, and creativity of what is absolutely the finest museum staff anywhere. If the Metropolitan Museum has set and maintained the highest standards of excellence, it is due to these remarkable men and women. Lastly, to the many friends I have made here, and to the millions of admirers this institution has attracted and inspired, I offer my warmest thanks for the gratifying opportunity to serve the greatest art museum in the world."

Speaking for the Museum's administrative staff, Emily K. Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan, stated: "Having worked for some 30 years alongside this Director—at first in the areas of development, membership, and external affairs, and more recently as chief administrative officer—it has been a genuine honor to help generate the resources in support of Philippe de Montebello's vision. He has created a singular legacy that gives pride to every Museum employee, and provides enlightenment to every visitor who passes through our doors. Our pledge to him—and to our public—is to continue working tirelessly to maintain the level of excellence he has sustained at the Metropolitan."

Philippe de Montebello: A Biography
Born in Paris in 1936 and educated in French schools through the baccalaureate, Philippe de Montebello graduated magna cum laude, Harvard class of 1958, and after receiving a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, went on to earn an M.A. in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University.

After beginning his Metropolitan Museum career in 1963 in its Department of European Paintings, Mr. de Montebello rose steadily through the curatorial ranks. Except for four-and-a-half years as Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1969-1974), he has spent his entire career at the Met, returning in 1974 to assume the post of Vice Director for Curatorial and Educational Affairs, and then becoming the Museum's Director in 1977. He has not only served longer than any other director in the Metropolitan's history, but has for several years ranked as the longest-serving leader at any major museum in the world. As Chief Executive Officer, he leads a professional staff of more than 300 curators, conservators, educators, and librarians, as well as an administrative staff, reporting through the Museum's President, consisting of more than 2,300 full- and part-time employees in the fields of operations, construction, development, marketing, finance, visitor services, systems and technology, human resources, and merchandising. The museum's volunteers now number 1,100—the largest such corps at any museum in the world.

Attendance at the Metropolitan has increased substantially since Mr. de Montebello first became Director, rising from 3.5 million in 1977 to a peak of more than 5.1 million in 2000. Despite the inevitable decline that followed 9/11, attendance has resumed an upward trend, rising to 4.6 million at the close of the 2007 fiscal year last June 30.

The Building: Expansion and Enhancement
Throughout his tenure, he has focused not only on educating and enlightening the public, but on building the collections, expanding museum programs, and enlarging and refining the institution's physical structure. Under Mr. de Montebello's leadership, the Metropolitan Museum has nearly doubled in size, vastly increasing its gallery space, first in the late 1970s with the construction of a series of new wings that marked the completion of a master plan for expansion, and since the 1990s under a new program of "building from within" that has seen the creation and refinement of many additional galleries inside the existing structure. Notable building projects under his aegis that moved beyond the scope of the original 1970 master plan were the creation of both the 100,000-square-foot Lila Acheson Wallace Wing for 20th-century art, which opened in 1987, and the light-filled Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court, opened in 1990.

Most recently, in April 2007, the Metropolitan Museum opened its new and widely acclaimed 57,000-square-foot Greek and Roman Galleries, followed in fall 2007 by the new 25,000-square foot Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, as well as wholly refurbished galleries for Oceanic and Native North American art. Just last month, continuing the commitment to consistently renewing and improving the presentation of its collections, the Museum unveiled significantly expanded and reconfigured galleries for its renowned holdings of 19th- and early 20th-century European paintings and sculpture, including the new Henry J. Heinz II Galleries. All of these projects, along with the concurrent cleaning and Restoration of the Museum's officially landmarked, again-dazzling outdoor façade along Fifth Avenue, were accomplished without ever closing the building to the public.

Mr. de Montebello's other major building programs have included the expansion and renovation of period rooms and galleries for the decorative arts (culminating most recently in the November 2007 reopening of The Wrightsman Galleries); the 1993 opening of new permanent and special exhibition galleries for drawings, prints, and photographs—since supplemented in September 2007 by the new Joyce and Robert Menschel Hall for Modern Photography; the 1996 conservation and installation of the intarsia Renaissance studiolo from the palace of Duke Federico da Montefeltro at Gubbio, Italy; in 2000, the opening of the new Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries for Byzantine art and the installation of Coptic art in an evocatively designed, crypt-like gallery carved out of found storage space beneath the Great Hall staircase; and the building of galleries for Cypriot art, ancient Near Eastern art, Korean art, and Chinese art (including the Douglas Dillon Galleries and the Astor Court, opened in 1981), as well as the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art, opened in 1994. In 2006, Mr. de Montebello launched the current project to reconstruct, expand, and re-design the Museum's entire American Wing, including The Charles Engelhard Court, which is currently underway, and also to begin the complete reinstallation of the Islamic collection, scheduled to open in 2011.

Ever searching with particular zeal for smaller refinements and ameliorations that he believes add immeasurably to the Museum's presentations of art, the Director also initiated the installation of colossal statuary near The Temple of Dendur, also lowering the stone wall that previously blocked much of the view of the temple; the 2000 renovation of the 16th-century Spanish architectural masterpiece, the Vélez Blanco Patio; and in 1995, the removal of the lunette that had long obscured part of the entrance to the Tiepolo and European Paintings Galleries, making its monumental paintings visible from the Great Hall below.

Mr. de Montebello has also led the effort to redesign and modernize the Metropolitan Museum's world-renowned conservation and scientific research facilities, each of which serves as a training ground for conservators around the world. During his tenure, the Museum's four major conservation areas— the Antonio Ratti Textile Center (opened in 1995), together with centers for objects conservation, paintings conservation, and works on paper/photography conservation, each supported by and named for the Sherman Fairchild Foundation—as well as specialized studios for Asian art, costume, and book conservation, have been established or thoroughly upgraded. In 2004, the Director established the Department of Scientific Research, a core group of scientists who collaborate with curators and conservators throughout the Museum.

The Museum's libraries and study centers—with a combined total of more than one million books and periodicals relating to the history of art—rank among the most comprehensive in the world. In recent years, the Thomas J. Watson Library, the Metropolitan's main research library, has been renovated and expanded, and since 1997 includes the Lita Annenberg Hazen and Joseph H. Hazen Center for Electronic Information Resources. This new electronic resource center offers increased access to scholarly resources via CD-ROMs, the Internet, and other electronic media. And the newly re-opened Uris Center for Education includes the large, technologically equipped new Nolen Library, providing specially designed areas for use by families, students, teachers, and the general public.

In addition to conceiving and managing this wide array of projects, Mr. de Montebello has been deeply involved for more than three decades in the massive fundraising efforts required to finance the Museum's acquisitions, construction programs, and day-to-day maintenance of its two-million-square-foot building. Late last year, the Metropolitan's capital campaign, generously funded by both private and public contributions under the guidance of its chairman, Trustee Emeritus E. John Rosenwald, Jr., exceeded $1 billion—making it the largest such effort in its history.

The Collections, Acquisitions, Exhibitions, and Related Programs
Throughout Mr. de Montebello's nearly 31 years as Director, the Museum has placed a major emphasis on building the collections, successfully courting donors in an effort to enhance acquisitions funding and secure collections. During this period, the Metropolitan acquired countless major private collections as well as individual masterpieces, notable among the latter: Balthus' iconic painting The Mountain in 1982; an 11th-century gilt-bronze Cambodian deified king known as the "Golden Boy" in 1988, and Vincent van Gogh's Wheat Field with Cypresses, purchased in 1993, both acquired through the generosity of Walter and Leonore Annenberg; the 1955 Jasper Johns masterwork White Flag, purchased in 1998; and in 2004 the much-applauded acquisition of an exquisite tempera-and-gold-on-wood Madonna and Child by the early Renaissance Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Among innumerable additions to the collections of The Cloisters, the Metropolitan's branch museum for medieval art in upper Manhattan, have been two of the rarest and finest sculptures of their kind—the incomparable, ca. 1300 English ivory Virgin and Child, acquired in 1979; and in 1996 the ca. 1470 carved boxwood Virgin and Child by Nikolaus Gerhaert von Leiden. Mr. de Montebello's tenure has also been marked by the receipt of a number of masterpieces from the fabled Wrightsman collection, including singular works by Vermeer (Portrait of a Young Woman, a 1979 gift), Rubens, Guercino, and other artists.

The great collections that Mr. de Montebello helped acquire for the Met include such acquisitions and bequests as: the Jack and Belle Linsky Collection of European paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts in 1982; the Berggruen Klee Collection of some 90 works by Paul Klee, donated by Heinz Berggruen in 1984; the gift of 10 paintings by Clyfford Still from the artist's widow in 1987; The Annenberg Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in 1991; the Florene M. Schoenborn collection of 20th-century works in 1996; the Jacques and Natasha Gelman collection of modern paintings in 2001; the Gilman Paper Company Collection of 19th-century French, British, and American photographs; and in 2007, the Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection of Abstract Expressionist and other modern works.

Throughout this period, the Museum under Mr. de Montebello's leadership has also mounted an ambitious, critically praised, and widely attended program of some 30 special exhibitions annually, involving not only all of the institution's 17 curatorial departments, but also presenting celebrated works of art on loan from public and private collections around the world. Among them—in but the briefest summary—have been such landmark exhibitions as: The Great Bronze Age of China (1980); The Horses of San Marco (1980); The Vatican Collections (1983); Manet, 1832-1883 (1983); Van Gogh in Arles (1984); India! (1985-1986); Degas (1989-1990); Velázquez (1989-1990); Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries (1990-1991); Seurat (1991-1992); Splendors of Imperial China (1996); The Glory of Byzantium (1997); Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids (1999-2000); Vermeer and the Delft School (2001); Tapestry in the Renaissance (2002); Leonardo da Vinci: Master Draftsman (2003); and Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings (2005). He has focused particular attention over the last decade on exhibitions that explore and interpret the Met's own collections, including Goya in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1995), Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt (1995-96), From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1998-1999), The Year One (2001), and the recent showing of the Museum's entire holdings in Dutch paintings, The Age of Rembrandt (2007-2008), which coincided with the publication of a monumental, two-volume catalogue of this collection.

Mr. de Montebello's tenure has been marked throughout by notable growth in the institution's publishing program. Now the leading art book publisher in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum issues between 25 and 30 lavishly illustrated, prize-winning collection and exhibition catalogues each year, along with an annual Journal containing scholarly articles written by both resident and outside authorities on works in the Museum's collections, and a quarterly Bulletin that is sent to its more than 130,000 members, whose fall issues Mr. de Montebello converted into an annual survey of the year's most notable acquisitions. The Met also issues many publications specifically designed for students, along with boxed resource kits and other curriculum materials for teachers.

In addition to spearheading the expansion of the Uris Center, Mr. de Montebello has seen to the unprecedented expansion of educational efforts at the Museum—welcoming at peak levels more than 250,000 school children, adult learners, student interns, and professional educators each year, as well as more than 50 doctoral and post-doctoral international fellows, the largest such program in the United States. This has been accomplished while ensuring the continuing popularity of and critical acclaim for its annual roster of concerts, lectures, and scholarly symposia now attended by more than 80,000 people yearly. As a special reflection of the Director's goal of making scholarly use of the Internet, the Museum also established an unprecedented online resource called the Timeline of Art History—featuring works of art reflecting more than 5,000 years from prehistory to the present day. This learning tool is now consulted by some 24 million visitors annually to the Museum's website.

Long the narrator of the Museum's audio guide programming—which now features a "Director's Selections" tour that he himself recorded in five of the eight different languages offered—Mr. de Montebello's has become one of the most instantly recognizable and respected voices in the cultural world.

The Met—and Its Director—on the World Stage
As the senior director among the world's major art institutions, Mr. de Montebello has served as a global ambassador widely known for his impassioned advocacy for the enduring concept of the encyclopedic museum. He was, for example, among the first in the art world to raise warnings about the threats to Afghanistan's now-destroyed Bamiyan Buddhas, and has generously provided Metropolitan Museum resources and expertise to crucial art preservation efforts throughout the world. He has also been a leader in an informal international museum directors' association, working with his colleagues at its annual summit meetings to codify and maintain the highest museological standards among institutions throughout the world. Mr. de Montebello has lectured on the Met and museum issues not only throughout the United States, but also in Europe and Asia.

Long active as well in creating coalitions among, and working to help craft standards for, all museums, he has served as a leader within the museum community on issues of provenance, specifically in the areas of antiquities and of spoliated World War II-era art. An advocate of ongoing, transparent research into the ownership history of the Museum's collections, he served as chairman of the 1998 Task Force of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which drafted guidelines still governing museum-wide response to World War II-era art claims. And in 2006 he successfully negotiated a precedent-setting agreement with the Italian government ending years of disputes regarding the legal ownership of several works in its Department of Greek and Roman Art. Under the terms of the agreement, Italy provided long-term loans to the Met in exchange for the return of these works.

Over the years Mr. de Montebello has been awarded many honors, including Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur in 1991 (he was promoted to the rank of Officier in 2007); Order of Isabel la Catolica, Encomienda de Numero; the Spanish Institute Gold Medal Award; Knight Commander, Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great; the 2002 Blérancourt Prize for contributions to the cultural bond between France and America; the National Medal of Arts from the President of the United States in 2003; the 2004 Amigos del Museo del Prado Prize; the 2005 C.I.N.O.A. (Confederation Internationale de Négociants en Oeuvres d'Art) Prize; and in 2007, both the Mayor of New York's Award for Arts and Culture, and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold & Silver Star, from the Government of Japan.

He has received honorary doctorates from Harvard University, New York University, Dartmouth College, Lafayette College, Bard College, Iona College, and the Savannah College of the Arts. He serves on the Board of Trustees of NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, and on the Advisory Council of Columbia University's Department of Art and Archaeology, and is a Trustee of the American Federation of Arts.

He and his wife, Edith, raised three children in New York City and now have four grandchildren.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the largest museum in the Western Hemisphere, and the world's most encyclopedic art museum under one roof. Founded in 1870, its permanent collections, housed in 17 curatorial departments, embrace more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present, from every part of the globe, in all artistic media, and at the highest levels of creative excellence.

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January 8, 2008

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