The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York, NY



Metropolitan Museum of Art's John K. Howat to Retire in 2001


John K. Howat, the longtime Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the Departments of American Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, has announced his plans to retire from the Museum effective March 1, 2001. Mr. Howat, who has served in curatorial positions at the Metropolitan for more than 33 years, during which time he led the major effort to expand the Museum's American Wing, will have capped his career at the Met by supervising one of the most ambitious special exhibitions ever mounted by his department -- Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861 -- which is on view through January 7, 2001.

"Jock Howat has left an indelible mark at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," Director Philippe de Montebello said in announcing the retirement. "Under his strong and creative leadership, the collections of American art and the galleries to exhibit them have grown exponentially. His considerable accomplishments at the Met are certain to benefit generations of future museum visitors. I know that Jock's many grateful colleagues here, who will miss him enormously, join me in expressing gratitude for his lifetime of devotion to this institution."

Mr. Howat commented: "During the 33 years that I have been on the staff of the Metropolitan Museum, I have enjoyed to the fullest the multifarious tasks of curatorial work. Few members of the public understand how diverse such a career is, involving scholarship, connoisseurship, knowledge of the art market, collecting, writing for publication, arranging permanent installations as well as temporary exhibitions, public relations, fundraising, and administration among the broad range of activities.

"My time at the Metropolitan has been exhilarating, occasionally terrifying, and always interesting," he continued. "Colleagues here and at sister institutions, Metropolitan Museum Trustees, supporters of the Museum, and members of the public have all provided me and my family with many lasting friendships that we treasure. I feel very lucky to have been able to pursue a curatorial career, serving the public, which at the same time has provided me with a splendid hobby. To have enjoyed both within the magnificent halls of the Metropolitan Museum is a blessing for which I am very grateful."

Born in Denver, Colorado, and raised in La Jolla, California, John K. Howat was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard (B.A., 1959, M.A., 1962). After two years as curator at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, New York, and another year as a Chester Dale Fellow at the Met, he joined the staff of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1967 as Assistant Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture. He was promoted to Associate Curator in charge of the department the following year, and to Curator in 1970. In 1982, he was elected Chairman of the newly combined Departments of American Art, a position endowed in 1983 as the Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairmanship.

Mr. Howat's principal focus over the course of his three decades at the Metropolitan has been the construction and installation of the much-expanded American Wing, which was completed in 1980, followed by the opening of the Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, which opened in 1988. In 1982 he established the William Cullen Bryant Fellows, whose annual contributions underwrite American Wing publications-numbering some two dozen exhibition and collections catalogues to date.

A recognized expert on American landscape painting, Mr. Howat is also the author of The Hudson River School and Its Painters (Viking Press, 1972), as well as a forthcoming biography of Frederic Edwin Church and numerous articles and essays on 19th-century American art. Most recently he authored "Private Collectors and Public Spirit: A Selective View" for the catalogue Art and the Empire City, which Mr. Howat also co-edited with Catherine Hoover Voorsanger. Among his other scholarly contributions, he also edited The World of the Hudson River School (1987), for which he wrote the article "A Climate for Landscape Painters"; co-authored 19th Century America: Paintings and Sculpture (1970); and co-authored the introduction to the 1973 catalogue American Impressionist and Realist Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz.

In addition to his work in co-organizing the current exhibition Art and the Empire City, Mr. Howat was responsible for American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School (1987), American Masterpieces (1976), and some 13 additional exhibitions and installations at the Metropolitan Museum.

Mr. Howat supervised the installation of the new American Wing in 1980, and the Luce Center in 1988. Housing one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of American art in existence, the department holds more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, dating from the 17th to the 20th century, most which are accessible to the public on four floors of gallery and study areas. The American Wing also features 25 furnished period rooms that offer an unparalleled view of American domestic architecture. It also offers visitors one of the Museum's most beloved spaces, the Charles Engelhard Court.

Mr. Howat, who serves on the editorial board of the American Art Journal and as trustee and vice president of the Archives of American Art, won the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History from the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, in 2000.

About the American Wing

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has acquired important examples of American art since its establishment in 1870. Today the collection is supervised by two curatorial departments: American Paintings and Sculpture, established in 1948, and American Decorative Arts, organized in 1934. (Paintings and sculpture created by artists born after 1876, as well as decorative arts created after 1916, are part of the Museum's Department of Modern Art.)

The American Wing's collection of paintings, comprehensive in scope and extraordinary in quality, illustrates almost all phases of the history of American art from the late 18th to the early 20th century. It includes masterworks by such artists as John Singleton Copley, Ralph Earl, Gilbert Stuart, George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Martin Johnson Heade, Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and James McNeill Whistler. Among the most celebrated paintings are Stuart's portrait of George Washington, Bingham's Fur Traders Descending the Missouri, Cole's The Oxbow, Church's Heart of the Andes, Eakins's The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull), and Sargent's Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau). The wing also is home to one of the best known works in American art, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's monumental 1851 canvas, Washington Crossing the Delaware.

The sculpture collection is equally distinguished and is especially strong in Neoclassical and Beaux-Arts works. Artists represented include Erastus Dow Palmer, John Quincy Adams Ward, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Frederic Remington, and Frederick William MacMonnies.

Works in the decorative arts extend in date from the late 17th to the early 20th century. Among the 25 furnished period rooms that span this period and offer an unparalleled view of American domestic architecture are the grand rococo pre-Revolutionary Van Rensselaer hall (1769), a McKim, Mead & White stair hall (1884), and a Frank Lloyd Wright living room (1915). Furniture includes masterpieces from the leading 18th-century cabinetmaking centers of Boston, Newport, and Philadelphia, as well as works by Duncan Phyfe, Charles Honoré Lannuier, John Henry Belter, Alexander Roux, and the Herter Brothers created in 19th-century New York City. Highlights in the silver collection include the work of Paul Revere and Tiffany & Company. The extensive glass collection incorporates blown- and pressed-glass vessels, with superb works by the New England Glass Company, the Dorflinger Works, and Tiffany Studios. The collection of American stained glass, from the 17th through the early 20th century, is perhaps the most comprehensive anywhere and features the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. The ceramics holdings incorporate a wide variety from Pennsylvania-German redware to Rookwood Pottery. The textiles collection includes over 100 quilts, 18th- and early-19th-century needlework samplers, and fabrics designed by Candace Wheeler.

The American Wing also houses The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art, which puts on view the Museum's entire reserve collection of American objects -- about 850 paintings, 100 sculptures, 600 pieces of furniture, and 7,000 works in other decorative media, including silver, glass, and ceramics.

Read more about the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published 12/19/00 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/30/11

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