TheMet150: Met Receives Major Gift of Late 19th-Century American Decorative Arts and Paintings from Barrie and Deedee Wigmore for Museum’s 150th Anniversary

Nearly 50 Highlights on View Beginning December 2

Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore have promised 88 superlative examples of American Aesthetic Movement and Gilded Age decorative arts and contemporaneous paintings from their collection—one of the preeminent holdings of late 19th-century American art in private hands—to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The gift is part of The Met’s 2020 Collections Initiative celebrating the Museum’s 150th anniversary.

Comprised of prime examples of American decorative arts and paintings, all created around the time The Met was formed, this gift has particular resonance in the Museum’s anniversary year,” stated Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “We are deeply grateful to Met Trustee Barrie Wigmore and his wife, Deedee, for their exceptional generosity.”

Aesthetic Splendors: Highlights from the Gift of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore will be on view in the Museum’s American Wing beginning December 2, 2019, in a gallery named for Mrs. Wigmore and devoted to decorative arts of the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s and 1880s. The Met’s temporary installation will evoke the scrupulously restored interiors of the Wigmores’ home (which was constructed in the same period), with reproduction wallpapers of the same era as their collection. While a few of the works have been included in major exhibitions, most of those on display have never been seen by the public.

Aesthetic Splendors: Highlights from the Gift of Barrie and Deedee Wigmore: One of the most exceptional examples of the the Aesthetic Movement is a large Herter cabinet with delicate marquetry decoration of butterflies and spiderwebs, intricate carving, and gilding. (Image provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Speaking about the gift, Mr. and Mrs. Wigmore said: “Having our collection go to the American Wing is like having it stay in the family.

The focus of the Wigmores’ collection is art dating from the 1860s to the early 1890s, a period that coincides with many significant cultural achievements in New York, including the founding of The Met in 1870. The enormous wealth earned by post–Civil War industrialists and financiers gave rise to what is known as the Gilded Age—a period when highly skilled craftspeople, mainly immigrants, produced sumptuous objects for a discerning clientele.

The Wigmores’ holdings are a testament to their commitment to collecting works of the highest quality. Assembled over four decades, the collection features outstanding works by luminaries of American art. Their early focus in American painting was on members of the second generation of the Hudson River School, including multiple works by Albert Bierstadt, Sanford R. Gifford, John Kensett, Alfred Thompson Bricher, and Jervis McEntee. Because the Wigmores began collecting at an early date, they were able to acquire some of the finest examples by these leading artists. Among the highlights of their collection are the many masterful plein air (on the spot) oil sketches of the American wilderness, which they purchased at a time when these vibrant, quickly executed works were overlooked; today, they are much sought after and highly valued. These sketches provide a window into the artists’ thought processes and served as inspiration for their large-scale paintings. Of particular note are the plein air study and the much larger finished canvas for Gifford’s 1877–79 work An Indian Summer Day on Claverack Creek. The collection of paintings are in gilded, 19th-century frames that the artists of the Hudson River School regarded as critical to the aesthetic presentation of their work.

The Wigmores were pioneers in collecting the decorative arts, especially furniture and artistic brass furnishings, of the 1870s and 1880s, the period when the Aesthetic Movement was in full favor in America. They concentrated on premier furniture firms—including Herter Brothers and Kimbel & Cabus of New York and A. and H. Lejambre and Daniel Pabst of Philadelphia—that catered to a wealthy clientele. One of the most exceptional examples is a large Herter cabinet with delicate marquetry decoration of butterflies and spiderwebs, intricate carving, and gilding. The Wigmores were among the first to recognize the significance of “art brass” (decorative objects made of bronze), and their impressive holdings include exuberant work by principal makers, notably the Charles Parker Company in Meriden, Connecticut.

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