Category Archives: Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries

Cartoons: They’re Not Just for Saturday Mornings

Visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cloisters are likely familiar with our collection of tapestries.  These splendid objects are very impressive to Museum visitors, who may already know that tapestries are woven on giant looms.  But how do the weavers get the desired images to appear on a tapestry?  The answer is cartoons.

A cartoon is a full-scale drawing, which is placed behind the vertical warp threads of a loom.  Cartoons can also be used when designing frescoes.  For hundreds of years, when producing tapestries, weavers closely followed the cartoon to ensure that the tapestry design came out the way the artist intended.  The quality of the cartoon has to be high, because its appearance directly impacts the tapestry’s final outcome.  Modern weavers still use cartoons to create their tapestry’s design.

Comedies of Moliere…

Comedies of Moliere…

One of the rare books in Watson Library’s collection is The Comedies of Moliere: Tapestries with Subjects from the Comedies of Moliere, Executed Under Louis XV at the Royal Manufactory of Beauvais After Cartoons by Jean Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755) and Woven Under the Supervision of N. Besnier.  This book was requested from Watson Library by the Getty Museum through interlibrary services, but due to its age and condition, we were unable to loan it.  However, we were able to digitize it on demand, and then made it available electronically to researchers around the world.  Although this book was printed in a limited run of one-hundred, only eighteen are listed as being available on WorldCat.

Watson Library’s copy is number six of one-hundred

Watson Library’s copy is number six of one-hundred

This book features three photogravures which give researchers a good idea of what a tapestry cartoon would have looked like, followed by additional information about Moliere, his plays and the creators of the tapestry set.  The tapestries based on these cartoons were at one point acquired by J.P. Morgan, but were later sold to an unknown collector. 

A scene from Moliere’s "Le Malade Imaginaire," or "The Imaginary Invalid"

A scene from Moliere’s “Le Malade Imaginaire,” or “The Imaginary Invalid”

The cartoons in this book were designed by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, a French painter.  Some of Oudry’s other works are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection.

For more information on the creation of tapestries, the essay How Medieval and Renaissance Tapestries Were Made, by Museum director Thomas P. Campbell, is an excellent resource.


Connecting the Collections: Honoré Daumier

In honor of Honoré Daumier’s birthday (he was born February 26th, 1808), we would like to highlight various works in the Digital Collections relating to this great French printmaker, caricaturist, painter and sculptor.

We’ll begin with this 1993 exhibition catalog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection, Daumier drawings. The catalog “accompanie[d] an exhibition at the Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, offering the most extensive display of Daumier’s drawings since the Paris retrospectives of 1901 and 1934. Featuring about 150 works from twenty of the world’s foremost museums and from private collections, it includes casual sketches produced by the artist to vent his restless imagination as well as many of the highly finished watercolors he designed as formal presentations of his art.” Here is the catalog’s cover:

Cat. no. 116. "Street Show"

Cat. no. 116. “Street Show”

This black chalk and watercolor image, “Street Show,” is owned by the Met. The catalog descriptions begins, “In this double portrait, Daumier presented a kind of synthesis of the two familiar motifs of the sideshow and the solitary saltimbanque.” This catalog, like everything else in the Digital Collections, can be viewed in its entirety online or downloaded and read as a full-text searchable PDF.

We also have a number of Daumier-related items in our Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection. For instance, there are two exhibition catalogs from the Kraushaar Gallery (see this earlier post about other catalogs from this gallery), one of etchings and lithographs by Daumier and another with lithographs by both Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec. In the latter, the lithograph “Le supplice de Tantale” is reproduced:

from "Exhibition of etchings by J.L. Forain and lithographs by Honoré Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec"

from “Exhibition of etchings by J.L. Forain and lithographs by Honoré Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec”

And here’s the cover to a 1922 exhibition of his etchings and lithographs:

from "Locatiares et proprietaires by Honore Daumier : ... an important collection of etchings and lithographs by Honore Daumier"

from “Locatiares et proprietaires by Honoré Daumier”

Finally, in our Manuscripts collection, we have this undated letter from Daumier himself:

Honore Daumier autograph letter to Heinbeil, undated

Honoré Daumier autograph letter to Heinbeil, undated

Unlike many of the printed works in the Digital Collections, most of the items in our Manuscripts collection are not full-text seachable because  OCR software (Optical Character Recognition) is not able to read handwritten works.  So, if anyone out there has any interest in transcribing this letter, we would greatly appreciate the help.

With that we’d like to wish this great artist a happy birthday, and encourage you all to look through our Digital Collections to discover more material on Daumier.

Digitization on Demand

The Interlibrary Services department at Watson Library supports the research activities of Metropolitan Museum of Art staff by obtaining books, print or electronic copies of journal articles and other texts that are not available in the Museum’s libraries.  Interlibrary Services also supports the research needs of colleagues around the world by lending our materials or providing digital scans when possible.

Periodically, requests are received for items that, due to age or condition, are not be able to travel.  Since September 2011, Interlibrary Services has been digitizing these items rather than canceling the borrowing library’s request.  This initiative has been named “digitization on demand” because the items that are digitized have not already been pre-selected for digitization.

One example of an item that was digitized on demand, The Eglinton Tournament: dedicated to the Earl of Eglinton, 1839, came in as a loan request from the Wells Library at Indiana University:

Title page

Title page

According to WorldCat, this item, published in 1839, is only available in six libraries (three of which are in the US).  This fascinating account of a tournament held at a castle in North Ayrshire, Scotland will be of interest to scholars studying chivalry, arms and armor, lithographs and related subjects.

The work begins with a detailed textual account of the tournament, followed by nine plates of lithographs that capture spectators viewing the event, various tournament battles, and scenes from the post-tournament ball.


The Lord of the Tournament as Victor Presented to the Queen of Beauty


The Melee at the Eglinton Passage of Arms


Ball Room at Eglinton Castle

Other Interlibrary Services requests that have been filled by the digitization on demand initiative include:

These books are now available to all our users in the Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection.

The digitization on demand program supports the “Watson Library Digitization Initiative to expand access to the Library’s rare and unique materials by developing, supporting, and promoting a distinctive digital collection of these items” and by making “them accessible to support the scholarly endeavors of Metropolitan Museum of Art staff and an international community of researchers” as stated on the Digital Collections homepage.

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.

Exploring New Guinea, 1910-1911

GoldHighlightsIn 1910-1911, a joint German-Dutch expedition traveled along the border between the two countries’ colonial territories on the island of New Guinea. The group started at the northern end of the island and traveled about 600 miles (960 km) up the Sepik River before turning back.

The leader of the German contingent, Leonhard Schultze Jena, also served as the topographer. He was accompanied by an astronomer and medical doctor, among others. Forschungen im Innern der Insel Neuguinea, the report of the expedition, is accompanied by over 70 plates of photographs, illustrations, and maps.

Several plates, such numbers 4445, include examples of masks, shields, and sculptures from the Sepik region. Although none of the works depicted in this report are at The Met, many similar objects can be found in the Museum’s collection.


GoldHighlights3The expedition also happened to coincide with Halley’s Comet’s passage by Earth, which happens once every 75-76 years.  Here is a photograph of the comet taken by Schultze Jena on May 21, 1910, as well as a corresponding image that highlights the comet’s tail.




Schultze Jena would go on to teach at the University of Marburg from 1913-1937 and is also well-known for his Maya and Aztec translations (footnote 1). Click here to see the publications by Schultze Jena held in the Goldwater Library.

This work is part of a collection of Rare Books from The Robert Goldwater Library.

(1) History of Cultural and Social Anthropology in Marburg,

The Reinharts’ 1906 Honeymoon Tour of the Middle East

The Watson Library owns two albums of over 200 photographs that document Rudolf and Lulu Reinhart’s 1906 honeymoon tour of the Middle East (volume one and two). The Reinharts did not take the pictures themselves. They bought them from studios that sold them as souvenirs to American and European tourists. The studios that produced these photographs were based in Beirut, Cairo, and Istanbul, though their photographers came from all over Africa, Asia, and Europe. Some tourists created albums that featured reproduced photographs alongside photographs of their own. As far as we can tell, the Reinharts’ album only has studio-produced copies. We make this assumption based on the fact that there are no pictures of the Reinharts in the albums.

It’s hard to say, without knowing their exact itinerary, anything definite about the order in which the photographs are assembled, or if they even saw all of the sites that are represented in the albums. Though we can’t see the Reinherts’ own work in the images themselves, we can see it in the organization of the photographs.

In each of the albums, the Reinharts placed a photograph of the Sphinx of Giza. Both of them were taken by a different studio, each from a different angle.


Félix Bonfils, a French photographer working in Beirut, took a picture of the Sphinx from its left. (You can see Bonfils’s signature on a rock at its base.) Gabriel Lekegian, an Armenian photographer working in Cairo, from its right. Neither photograph can capture the whole site on its own. Together, we see much of the site, in something like three dimensions. Still, these two photographs are separated by 20 others across two albums.

Elsewhere, multiple photographs from different studios are combined to form a more coherent narrative. There is a photograph of the exterior of the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara taken by Lekegian.

HighlightsEgypt3Immediately following it are three interior shots of the same site by Bonfils.



Both these albums are from the Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection.

Connecting the Collections: Frederic Edwin Church

In a recent post on Eugène Delacroix, we discussed how certain artists appear in a number of various collections throughout the Digital Collections.  Another such artist is Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), famed landscape painter of the Hudson River School. Works by and about him appear throughout the Digital Collections, some of which we’ll look at here.

ChurchHighlights1The above portrait of Church comes from a 1900 exhibition catalog in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection. This special exhibition, entitled Paintings by Frederic E. Church, was held at The Met from May 28-October 15, 1900 (the year Church died). Charles Dudley Warner, in his introduction to this catalog, wrote about the recently deceased artist, “In his spirit, his heroic cheerfulness, he was still young, hopeful of the world, the stanchest [sic] and most helpful of friends, and as clear and sweet in his Christian character as he was decided in his luminous rendition of the atmosphere of the distant mountains of his great pictures. He saw and felt the divinity in both worlds.”  In this catalog, many of these “luminous renditions” have been reproduced in black and white.


Then, in the Manuscripts collection, we have this letter from Church to artist and art dealer Samuel Putnam Avery (we also have a number of letters to Avery you can browse here).


Also, in the Rare Books in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries collection, we have a master’s thesis, Cultivating taste: Henry G. Marquand’s public and private contributions to advancing art in Gilded Age New York, by Adrianna M. Del Collo, in which Church is mentioned. (See this Highlights post for more on the Henry Gurdon Marquand Papers.)

There are two other large catalogs from the Metropolitan Museum Publications which feature a number of reproductions of Church’s works as well as critical and biographical writing on Church. One is Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861, an exhibition held in 2000 at The Met. The other is American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River Schoola 1987 exhibition catalog featuring several works by Church, including the below painting “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849):


Church, like many artists in our Digital Collections, appears in a number of different collections, from exhibition catalogs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications collection to a letter in the Manuscript collection to a thesis in our Rare Books collection. We will continue to “connect the Collections” in future posts, focusing on artists and subjects represented in a number of different collections within the Digital Collections.