Since its founding in 1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art has collected major works of American art. A separate, dedicated “American Wing” of the Museum first opened in 1924 to exhibit the domestic arts of the 17th to early 19th centuries; in 1980, paintings and sculpture galleries—as well as the enclosed Charles Engelhard Court (below)—were added, joining the American Wing all together.
Monumental sculpture, stained glass, and architectural elements are installed in the soaring, light-filled sculpture court, with decorative art objects on its balconies. Among the treasures on display here is an elegant figure of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens—one of two versions of this spirited sculpture (shown above) owned by The Met.
This sunlit court also features the stately facade of the United States Branch Bank (below), which was built between 1822–24 and was once located on Wall Street. The marble bank facade formed the front of the American Wing before it was joined to The Met with the addition of the 1980 glassed-in pavilion.
After another extensive renovation in 2012, the American Wing was reconfigured with 26 expanded and refined galleries—encompassing 30,00 square feet for the display of the Museum’s superb collection of some 20,000 works of American fine and decorative art. These ever-changing holdings include mid-17th to early 20th-century American and Latin American paintings; sculpture; drawings; decorative arts; historical interiors; and architectural fragments. Twenty period rooms tell the story of American domestic architecture and furnishings from 1680 to 1915.
The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, the open-storage area and gallery space on the American Wing’s mezzanine level (below), opened in 1988. Its thousands of objects are arranged by material, form, and chronology, and can be searched in a digital database.
The Met will soon expand its holdings of historical Native American art with the promised gift of the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, which is currently on display in the American Wing in Gallery 746.
Among the many notable paintings on view in the galleries is Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze, one of the best-known works in American art. For the 2012 re-hanging of this magnificent canvas in the newly renovated American Wing, a stately gilded frame was painstakingly re-created from an 1864 photograph of the painting. The image showed the canvas displayed in a dramatic frame replete with patriotic regalia—including a crest several feet across—all crowned by a broad-winged eagle. The magnificent new frame, finished with 12,500 gold leaves, features a hand-carved eagle crest and ornamental shields—a fitting context for the drama of Washington’s crossing.
Embodying a uniquely American story in Gallery 766 is a painting by Henry O. Tanner, which is displayed alongside his bronze portrait bust by Charles Grafly. The first African American artist to attend the august Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Tanner was championed by Thomas Eakins. In 1891, the artist left America for Paris, where he showed regularly at the Salon; in 1923 he was named an honorary chevalier of France’s Order of the Legion. Four years later, Tanner became the first African American to be made a full academician of the National Academy of Design. His evocative 1923 Flight into Egypt in The Met masterfully depicts the famous Biblical scene.
A favorite in the American Wing is Madame X by John Singer Sargent, one of The Met’s most iconic images. Sargent’s 1883–84 portrait of Madame Pierre Gautreau originally showed the right strap of her gown slipping from her shoulder. After the painting caused a scandal at the 1884 Paris Salon, Sargent repainted the strap and kept the canvas for 30 years before selling it to The Met. His subject’s arresting pallor and confident stance continue to capture viewers’ attention today.
Whether your taste runs to hand-stitched quilts and embroidered samplers, Louis C. Tiffany stained glass, or magnificent Hudson River School paintings, you’ll find endless treasures to admire and learn about in the American Wing. And you can find products inspired by some of the artworks mentioned above (and other patriotic items) in The Met Store by shopping here. Happy July 4th!