Author Archives: Deborah Vincelli

The Second Decade of Met Publications: 1880-1889

Watson Library has digitized the catalogs of the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from its very beginnings in 1870 through 1949, with a selection of later titles.  The collection is being added to and will ultimately include collection catalogs through 1964.

There are 55 items published between 1880-1889.  The types of items published in this second decade of the Museum’s history include catalogs of and guides to the Museum’s permanent collection, catalogs of objects loaned to the Museum, and official Museum documents, such as annual reports.

One permanent collection catalog from this decade is The Johnston Collection of Engraved Gems, presented to the Museum in 1881 by its president, Mr. John Taylor Johnston, and installed in what was then called the Grand Hall.  The catalog’s introductory note, seen below, provides a brief description and history of the collection.

Johnston collection of engraved gems

Johnston collection of engraved gems

Other important catalogs from this time include those documenting the Museum’s Cesnola collection of Cypriote antiquities, covering both pottery and sculpture.  Though largely unillustrated, the catalog of sculptures does contain a map of Cyprus from 1877.

Map of Cyprus from 1877

Map of Cyprus from 1877

One catalog containing a notable illustration is entitled Pictures by Old Masters, which includes works both belonging and loaned to the Museum in 1882 and displayed in its east gallery.  This illustration is of Raphael’s Madonna Dei Candelabri, and is followed in the catalog by an interesting essay discussing the work’s provenance.

Raphael’s "Madonna Dei Candelabri"

Raphael’s “Madonna Dei Candelabri”


Provenance of Raphael’s "Madonna Dei Candelabri"

Provenance of Raphael’s “Madonna Dei Candelabri”

An interesting document from this second decade of the Museum’s history is one which delineates the ceremonies which took place at the 1888 inauguration of one of the first additions to the Museum’s original Central Park structure of 1880.  Plans of the newly expanded first and second floors of the Museum can be seen below.

First floor

First floor

Second floor

Second floor

Lastly, materials from this period also include the prospectus of the Technical and Art Schools of the Museum, from 1880 and 1888-1889 respectively.  The Technical Schools offered classes in house, sign, and decorative painting, turning and woodcarving, carriage drafting and construction, and industrial art, as well as trade-specific classes in drawing, designing, modeling, and carving.  The proclaimed aim of this school was to “… make first-class workmen who can earn a living by their trade.”

The Museum’s Art Schools offered classes in design, modeling, color, freehand, architectural and perspective drawing, chasing and hammered metal work, and painting on china.  Their aim was to offer instruction particularly to those individuals “… who desire to acquire an artistic education applicable to Industrial and Commercial uses.”  Here is a page from the Art Schools’ prospectus with a description of classes, their schedule and fees, and the instructors’ names.

Art Schools’ prospectus

Art Schools’ prospectus

Notably, the Art Schools’ prospectus ends with the statement that if a class in bookbinding is found practical, one will be formed at the commencement of the school year.

All these items are part of the much larger Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection.


The First Decade of Met Publications

Watson Library has digitized the catalogs of the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art from its very beginnings in 1870 through 1949, with a selection of later titles.  The collection is being added to and will ultimately include collection catalogs through 1964.

There are 71 catalogs published between 1870-1879. The range of items published in this first decade of the Museum’s history includes official Museum documents, such as the Museum constitution and by-laws, lists of Museum trustees and members, annual reports, and a list of subscriptions to the fund for the establishment of the Museum. Also included are guides to the Museum’s collection, catalogs of the first loan exhibitions held at the Museum, and clippings which contain some of the first mentions of the Museum in the contemporary press.

Some of the catalogs published in this decade, such as the Guide to the Cesnola Collection of Antiquities, show the collection when it was housed at 128 West 14th street, the Museum’s location from 1873-1879.  Here is a floor plan of the ground floor at this location.

Image 1

Though most of these early catalogs are not illustrated, some contain critical or historical commentary on the objects, as well as reproductions of the artists’ signatures.  For instance, here is an entry describing Adriaan de Vries’s Portrait of a Dutch Gentleman from the Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image 2

Among the exhibition catalogs published in this decade is the Catalogue of the New York Centennial Loan Exhibition, which was held at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Academy of Design in 1876.

Image 3

Another item of interest is a Handbook published by the Museum for visitors wishing to learn more about the pottery and porcelain collection.  In addition to highlighting the collection, the handbook provides a brief explanation and history of the medium.

Image 4

The first decade of the Museum’s publication history also includes an Address, published in 1871, from the Museum officers to the people of New York outlining the purpose of the Museum and commending the institution to “… all who care for the fine arts.”

Image 5 These are part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection.

The Samuel Putnam Avery Papers

Watson Library owns the Samuel Putnam Avery Papers, a collection which consists of autograph letters, sketches, two memorial albums, a scrapbook of engravings, and other types of documents.  Born in New York City, Samuel Putnam Avery (1822-1904) was an art dealer, rare book and print collector, and wood engraver.  He was a founder and lifelong trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Avery was also a keen collector of rare books, fine bindings, and nineteenth-century prints.  He was seminal in the establishment of a separate print room at the New York Public Library in 1900 and founded the Avery Architectural Library at Columbia University in 1890.

Avery’s work as an art dealer included the commissioning and collecting of American paintings, the sale of engravings, and the management of an art gallery that imported modern European art.  Our collection includes several letters sent to Avery from American artists, including James McNeill Whistler, John Trumbull, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Francis Cropsey, Lockwood de Forest, Eastman Johnson, John La Farge, Asher B. Durand, and Charles Willson Peale.  In a letter from Frederic Edwin Church dated 1860, Church tells Avery that he has a proof of the “Andes” plate in its advancing state, referring to the painting now at The Museum known as Heart of the Andes.  Church ends his letter by writing, “I am no judge of such matters, but I think it is great in promise.”

F.E. Church letter to Samuel P. Avery, 1860 Nov. 21

F.E. Church letter to Samuel P. Avery

In 1867, Avery moved to Paris to assist with the Universal Exhibition and was thus put into contact with various French and German artists, including Ludwig Knaus, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Jules Breton, Jean-Léon Gérôme, and Ernest Meissonier.  In addition, in the 1870s, Avery took annual trips to Europe during which time he commissioned art for clients such as William Henry Vanderbilt, James Jerome Hill, William Wilson Corcoran, and Edwin Denison Morgan.  Our collection includes several documents reflecting Avery’s role as a dealer of European art, such as this 1874 receipt from Bouguereau acknowledging payment of 22,500 francs by Avery for Bouguereau’s painting, La Charité, exhibited at the Salon of 1874.

Receipt from William Bouguereau

Receipt from William Bouguereau

Our collection also includes two memorial albums which consist of illustrated autograph letters, sketches, receipts, and calling cards sent to Avery from prominent nineteenth-century painters, printmakers, and art historians, as well as condolence letters written to his family on the event of Avery’s death in 1904.  Below is a sketch and letter sent to Avery from Bouguereau dated 1874.


Bouguereau sketch


Bouguereau letter dated 1874

Our collection of Samuel Putnam Avery Papers also contains a scrapbook of sixty-one print proofs and commercial wood engravings by Avery, including book and magazine illustrations such as this one depicting life in New York.


Magazine illustration

It also includes advertisements like the following for the sale of family lots at the New York Bay Cemetery.



The scrapbook is bound in full red straight-grain morocco tooled in blind and gold, and the engravings are mounted on forty-eight leaves of colored paper.

This material can be found in both the Manuscripts and Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collections.