Saturday, March 3

My New York: a designer's musings - Part I the art and furniture of the refurbished American Wing at NYC's MET museum

let me share highlights of my tour
of the
at
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
in New York City!

mile's closeup photo of  famous Augustus Saint-Gaudens 1892; bronzed 1914 

this famous equestrian statue was dedicated to Civil War hero William Tecumseh Sherman - noble heir to the equestrian tradition which began in ancient Rome and continued
through the Renaissance.
A laurel crown, palm leaf acts as a guiding force.
Her outstretched arm leads the horse, upon which sits General Sherman.
photograph courtesy of the MET website
  When walking the streets of New York one soaks up the culture around every corner, and each neighborhood brings it's own unique flavor and approach.  It astounds me over the 20+ years I have lived in this amazing melting pot, the inundation of creative inspiration.  The history of New York as an art, architecture and interior design center has deep roots planted, and I encourage all visiting New York City  to stop into the MET's New American Wing to soak up the historical, serendipitous trail that brings us to the pulsing streets of NYC today.  The MET is a virtual notebook I regularly tap in to inspire my design projects.  Many New Yorkers have sophisticated palettes, and it's important I stay current with current art and fashion, but I find it equally important to understand the historical references in the world of art and design.

the former downtown NYC bank facade with Greek columns now serves as the entrance
to the American Wing inside the MET museum
watch this video
about the opening of the American Wing while in last phases of construction

The many-year face lift and recent unveiling at the American Wing at the MET is a testament to the city's commitment to showcasing and valuing the history of New York. The stunning galleries showcase an awe inspiring exploration of American history of art and decorative arts over centuries. The works are arranged in chronological order, which makes for a walking discovery through time that resonates with each progression through 26 rooms and 18 galleries. The most recent renovation was transformed by Architect Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates.

Read New York Times writer Holland Cotter's detailed assessment of the art and refurbished wing to understand the depth of work, passion and consideration that went into this multi-million dollar renovation.  After the very detailed tour yesterday, I was struck by Cotter's thoughts below:
"So, America the beautiful? The terrible? The everything-in-between? The art in the American Wing is, like the pageant of an election year, likely to complicate whatever convictions and doubts you bring to it. But this is what art should do; that’s the point. It lets you keep your convictions and doubts open-ended. It campaigns for questions, not votes." Holland Cotter

The galleries' main focal point and vast painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
 1851 George Washington Crossing the Delaware. 

 The American Wing sits by itself behind a stately entrance, a former New York City bank facade that was recreated and kept intact showing Greek columns.  Enter the front doors of the former bank and step back in time to completely restored and reclaimed interiors and art collections dating back to the dutch colonial times in New York City. 

highlights from our tour:

John Singer Sargent Madame X, 1883–84

I was struck by Sargent’s portrait of this Parisian socialite in gown with jeweled straps which hangs prominently in one of the galleries -- the original painting was altered because once it was exhibited showing the lady's strap fallen over her shoulder, her reputation came into question.  The story on the muse:  Virginie Avegno was the daughter of Major Anatole Avegno from New Orleans, a gentleman whose family had emigrated from Italy, and wife Marie Virginie de Ternant of Parlange Plantation, Louisiana. After Major Avegno's death, Mrs. Avegno moved with her daughters to Paris. Virginie married Pierre Gautreau, a Parisian banker.  During this era, many artists were self taught due to a lack of art schools, therefore  artists made a living by approaching aristocratic families to paint portraits -- these portraiture act as literal historical archives of the lifestyles of these families.  This gallery is fascinating and caught my attention, and many of the artists painted with such detail the fabrics, decorative arts and daily routines. The use of light was extraordinary at this time.
photograph from Met website
Daniel Crommelin Verplanck, 1771

another portrait and equally telling with references to wealth and arrogance. 
Verplanck captured this boy on the steps of his affluent Hudson River area estate (see the glimpse of the river).  The gold chain holding the squirrel, the rich attire and the smirk on this young boy's face tell quite a story...


  Another art movement at a similar time, but completely different in focus, is highlighted well at the New American Wing -- The Hudson River School from the mid-19th century American art movement (primarily 1800-1875).  These paintings come from a time and group of artists who congregated and painted in the Catskill, Adirondack and White Mountain regions of New York.




"The Hudson River School paintings reflect three themes of America in the 19th century: discovery, exploration, and settlement. The paintings also depict the American landscape as a pastoral setting, where human beings and nature coexist peacefully...often juxtaposing peaceful agriculture and the remaining wilderness, fast disappearing from the Hudson Valley." Wikipedia
Frederic Edwin Church
Sunset across the Hudson Valley, 1870

Sanford Robinson Gifford
A Gorge on the Mountains, 1862
Catskill Mountains

I find the themes of the Hudson River School laden with the grace of nature, man living with nature, and God's hand in all of it.  These themes are interwoven with the looming progressions of society at the time as can be seen by trails of smoke in the distance and other references.

Let's talk furniture!

The 19 period rooms put together with painstaking details will "WOW"
any history buff or designer.  This complete overhaul is amazing -- many of the rooms were re-painted using historical oil paint colors and applied in appropriate methods, and much of the decorative arts and furniture were properly conserved to withstand over time. Much thought and research went into assuring each room was properly archived. A glass elevator was added -- each room has it's very own touch screen similar to how an Ipad works - a swipe of your finger gives you historical history of the room, detailed references and information on the families who lived in the spaces.  As you walk from the simpler Dutch country farmhouses to the more elaborate English-manor style rooms you see the quick changes that took place in lifestyle in the country.  In addition there are floors of open hallways with archived decorative objects on display - porcelain, stone, glass and other objects.  Here's a glimpse -


Samuel Hart room, Ipswich, Massachusetts 1680
illustrates the simple New England living,
yet this bedding is incredibly well made


Frank Lloyd Wright room was built for
Francis Little in Minnesota, 1912–1914
the room showcases Wright's fascination with nature in design

this dutch blue paint color is still quite relavant today -
the blue delft tiles used are incrediblely intact, and sought after. 
Blue Delft Tiles were originally tin-glazed and made in the 16th century in the Netherlands


Chippendale furniture in a stately space -

this room has an impressive collection of furniture that was made completely different in scale and proportions depending upon its province --
the dutch were apparently short, therefore their furniture was smaller and lower to the grown, while the furniture coming out of Boston at the time was made with more "English" proportions with taller legs, etc...

miles captured this wallpaper up close -hard to believe they actually removed this intact from the original Van Renselaer Hudson river valley home and transported it to the museum
one of the finest colonial interiors in America is part of English Palladian style country house built in 1769. This enormous estate surrounded the city of Albany.  Steven Van Rensselaer II built the house on more than half a million acres of Hudson River farmland.  Van Rensselaer's entry hall reflects the British influence over the Dutch settlers and was one of America's first Manor homes not decorated in the more simple Dutch style farmhouse. The ornate carved archway in the center shows Rococo influences.  The family imported hand-painted wallpaper from London.  The wallpaper depicts Italian ruin scenes from paintings by Gian Paolo Pannini and Joseph Vernet. The paper also showcases the Four Seasons paintings by Nicolas Lancret. They literally took it off the walls of the former estate and painstakingly preserved it - impressive!


I suggest picking up a copy of
This inexpensive guide to the American Wing

Stop back for Part II
My New York City:  A Designer's Musings
 Walking tour of
Central Park
next week

photo courtesy of the Met's website

note: unless otherwise credited
all photography taken by Miles Stephenson