The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
New York

An art insider's guide to The Met

Founded in 1870 by a group of progressive New Yorkers, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, known to everyone as The Met, began without artworks or a building. Its committee quickly set about acquiring both – with European Old Masters first – and in 1880 it opened at its iconic location on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park – now a pleasant 30-minute stroll from Mandarin Oriental, New York. At that time, it was a largely undeveloped site without paved roads, far from where anyone who was anyone wanted to live. Today its imposing neoclassical façade is the gateway to 5,000 years of global art, spread across two-million square-feet in numerous wings, which themselves chronicle architecture throughout the 20th century

The Temple of Dendur at The Met

The must-see Egyptian Temple

The Temple of Dendur is one of the Met’s most popular exhibits. This 2,028-year-old Egyptian temple was moved from its original location in the 1960s and painstakingly reassembled in the 1970s. Dedicated to the goddess Isis, its reliefs show the Pharaoh performing rituals to honour her. Yet its contemporary setting within the museum, The Sackler Wing, is itself a thing of wonder: a temperature-controlled towering glass and steel box that communicates the Met’s might as effectively as the Temple does Isis’s.
In the know: Escape the crowds and view it like a god from above, in The Japanese Art Reading Room on the wing’s second floor.

A Dutch Golden Age masterpiece painting hanging on The Met's dark blue wall

The Golden Age masterpieces

Holland’s Golden Age of painting, spearheaded by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals, has been a cornerstone of The Met’s collection since 1871. It boasts five of the 36 known works by Vermeer. Among his quiet masterpieces, Young Woman With a Water Pitcher, c. 1662, where a girl’s daily wash is transformed into a serene harmony of muted primary colours, is the enduring crowd-puller. Alongside other depictions of domestic tasks, here it’s used to underscore the Dutch painters’ fascination with the private worlds of women and a homely good life.
In the know: Until 4 October 2020, Golden Age works typically spread throughout the Met’s galleries are grouped together in one exhibition, In Praise of Painting

Living room of the Francis W. Little House complete with wooden furniture and brick fireplace

The starchitect’s living room

One of the Met’s great joys is its architectural mix. One moment you’re considering a bronze beaux arts lamppost, the next, modernism’s clean geometries. The Frank Lloyd Wright Room preserves a living room from one of the great modernist’s most beguiling creations: the Francis W. Little House, 1912-1914, a summer residence on Lake Minnetonka where the building’s sweeping horizontals echo those of the Prairies low plains and long horizons. Though 55-foot-long, the room is the warm heart of the house, structured around a red-brick fireplace, panelled with oak and with intricate copper-plated leading on the upper windows.
In the know: Lloyd Wright designed or chose all the furnishings, including oriental prints and plenty of plants.

Portrait of Madame Grand by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun

The woman of style and substance  

“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” So asked the radical feminist art collective, the Guerrilla Girls, in a notorious 1989 poster. One 18th-century artist whose work is a longstanding feature of the collection however is Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. You’ll find her work in Gallery 631. She overcame art history’s endemic chauvinism to become a star of her era, creating many portraits for Marie Antoinette.
In the know: Among the museum’s 40-plus Le Brun paintings, look out for her portrait of the musical celebrity Madame Grand, 1783, a gorgeous rococo confection.

Overhead shot of the The American Wing conservatory showing people studying the art and sculptures

The American history lesson

The American Wing houses the planet’s most thoroughgoing collection of North American art from the mid-17th to the early 20th century. The vast canvasses of The Hudson River School offer a truly epic take on the USA’s history and mythology. Commissioned by a newly minted elite, they promote the myth of the pioneering settler with sweeping landscapes where rural idylls sit cheek by jowl with soaring wilderness. The school’s founder Thomas Cole’s masterpiece is landscape painting The Oxbow.
In the know: Don’t miss Cole’s lesser-known painting The Titan’s Goblet. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser, with a mountain-sized stone goblet dwarfing cliffs, which pushes his glorifying vision into the realm of fantasy art.

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