The Met opens nearly two dozen newly installed European Paintings Galleries

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The Met opens nearly two dozen newly installed European Paintings Galleries
A patron looks at paintings on display during a press viewing of "A New Look at Old Masters" a newly installed gallery for European Paintings, on December 10,2020, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Nearly two dozen galleries dedicated to old master paintings at The Met will re-open to the public under a new roof and new skylights, after being closed for more than two years. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP.

NEW YORK, NY.- On December 12, nearly two dozen galleries dedicated to old master paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art re-opened under a new roof and new skylights, after being closed for more than two years. (The opening of these galleries marks the midpoint of a four-year construction project that will ultimately include all 45 galleries for European Paintings, 1250–1800.) This is the first opportunity for visitors to experience the 21 updated galleries and see more than 500 works from the collection—from Giotto to Goya—in light that will vary depending on the season and time of day, augmented by artificial light to maximize the viewing experience on overcast days or evening visits. Novel juxtapositions offering fresh dialogues among the works, including a large presentation of sculpture, will further enhance the installation.

A New Look at Old Masters is part of The Met's two-phase European Paintings Skylights Project, initiated in April 2018. In the first phase, 27 galleries on the second floor (north of the grand staircase) were closed for renovation. The second phase, expected to be completed in spring 2022, involves replacing the roof and skylights over the remaining, adjacent suite of galleries (south of the staircase). A New Look at Old Masters is a prelude to the final, extensive reinstallation of the European paintings galleries, 1250–1800 (Galleries 600–644), that will take place after the project is completed.

"As stewards of this historic architectural landmark, The Met is committed to maintaining superior facilities for the collection and for our visitors, and to handing off the building to the next generation in better condition than we received it," said Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Museum. "The halfway point of this monumental infrastructure project will give visitors an exciting preview of what's to come when the skylights construction is finished—improved natural light quality and ideal viewing conditions in our European paintings galleries for years to come."
Max Hollein, Director of The Met, added, "This new presentation of The Met's renowned European paintings collection will allow viewers to rediscover the old masters in a new light—quite literally. The galleries have been reinvigorated with thematic contexts, meaningful new arrangements, outstanding recent gifts, and the addition of powerful dialogues with sculpture and decorative arts."

"This project stems from our understanding that natural light is as crucial for the artist creating a painting as it is for those viewing it," said Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of European Paintings at The Met. "With the new roof and updated skylights—which can be adjusted for the changing seasons—Museum visitors to these galleries will be able to see the works illuminated by a quality of light similar to what the artists intended. As we reach the mid-point of this endeavor, we are excited to welcome visitors back into the refurbished galleries and offer fresh presentations to inspire new insights."

New Themes
The configuration of the updated galleries provides an opportunity for the curatorial team to present works from the collection in a new way, while respecting a chronological presentation.

The baroque gallery, for example, includes not only Italian paintings of the 17th century but also Spanish paintings of the same period, emphasizing the impact of Italian art throughout Catholic Europe. Another gallery has been dedicated to the different ways in which painters—Peter Paul Rubens, Nicolas Poussin, and others—resurrected themes from classical mythology and the Bible, infusing them with a vibrant, contemporary resonance.

One gallery highlights the creation of still life and genre painting in the 16th and 17th centuries, including the work of two very different female painters. Two other galleries provide an overview of oil sketches from the 16th through the 18th century, leading up to the Museum's unsurpassed collection of works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Other galleries place painters from the north in dialogue with their contemporaries from the south, from Jan van Eyck and Filippo Lippi to Albrecht Dürer and Giovanni Bellini. Another gallery has been given over to various approaches to expressing identity, featuring artists from Rubens and Anthony van Dyck to Diego Velázquez and Charles Le Brun.

The 18th-century French galleries take up such themes as the study of expression; François Boucher and the decorative arts; and the role of female artists, who finally found a place in the academy. The display of The Met's unique collection of French Neoclassical painting, dominated by gifts from Jayne Wrightsman, features the portrait of the Lavoisiers by Jacques-Louis David alongside the sculptured busts of Denis Diderot and Voltaire by Jean Antoine Houdon.

The European Paintings Skylights Project
Constructed in 1939 and last remodeled in 1952, the skylights above Galleries 600–644—located at the top of the stairs leading from the Great Hall—consist of 30,000 square feet of glass and a louver system that admits natural overhead light into the galleries. The project to replace and upgrade the roof, skylights, and all the HVAC systems serving these spaces is being carried out in two phases over approximately four years.

To prepare, The Met first undertook two years of extensive research and testing, including constructing a test site in New Jersey to determine the best system for the Museum. The first phase of the project began in April 2018. By July 2018, approximately 60 percent of the galleries—those to the north of the stairs—were closed. The process is now reversed for the second phase of the project, in which the suite of galleries south of the grand staircase will be closed for construction.

Other highlights of the European paintings collection are on view in the exhibition In Praise of Painting: Dutch Masterpieces at The Met in the Robert Lehman Wing—where paintings by El Greco are also on display—as well as in Making The Met, 1870–2020 (on view through January 3, 2021).

The Museum's website features a video of the skylights project, updates on progress, and new ways to engage with The Met's European paintings collection online.

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