Metropolitan Museum's new American Wing

The Great Hall of Van Rensselaer Manor House, The Great Hall of Van Rensselaer Manor House, Albany, 1765 to 1769, has been recreated in the American Wing galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

advertisement | advertise on newsday

You won't have to cross the East River in a flat-bottomed boat to see the glorious new galleries of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- the midtown Tunnel will do nicely, thank you. But by all means venture across: these skylit rooms, which opened last week and add more than 3,000 square feet of space to the Met, showcase the museum's comprehensive holdings in American art of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. There's an abundance of decorative arts, paintings and sculptures to linger over; here are five high points not to be missed.

1. WASHINGTON CROSSING THE DELAWARE

Emanuel Leutze's epic 1851 painting, depicting George Washington and his troops crossing the ice-clogged Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776, is the undisputed star of the show. A vast 149 by 255 inches, it hangs in a re-creation of its original gilded frame in a large central gallery. You've seen reproductions of this iconic image, but the original will awe you with its size, drama and accomplishment.

2. PORTRAITS IN MINIATURE

If Leutze's big history painting wows, a small room of miniature portraits will fascinate. These intricately detailed watercolor paintings on ivory were made to be worn or carried, often as a love token or memento mori. The Met has assembled a collection dating from 1750 to 1920; in the mid 19th century the daguerreotype put many painters out of business. There's even a miniaturist's traveling box here, with paints and brushes and other tools of the trade.

3. VAN RENSSELAER HALL

Step into the entrance hall of an 18th-century manor, complete with original leafy woodwork, furniture and custom hand-painted grisaille wallpaper depicting classical Roman landscapes. Stephen Van Rensselaer came from a prominent Dutch family; his house, outside Albany, was built -- in the English style -- after his marriage to Catherine Livingston in 1764. This is how the 1 percent lived in early America.

4. WINSLOW HOMER AND THOMAS EAKINS

In one gallery you get two great American painters for the price of one. Homer (1836-1910) is famous for his depictions of waves crashing on the rocky shore of Prout's Neck, Maine, where he had his studio. But even more dramatic is "The Gulf Stream," his 1899 painting of a doomed man adrift at sea in a damaged fishing boat. Eakins (1844-1916) offers insightful portraits of turn-of-the-century Americans playing chess, knitting, rowing sculls or -- in pastoral fantasy mode -- lolling in the grass nude, playing panpipes.

5. MADAME X

advertisement | advertise on newsday

John Singer Sargent's Gilded Age portrait of an alluring, anonymous society lady -- later identified as Madame Pierre Gautreau, an American married to a French banker -- is a study in black satin and creamy white skin. Lots of skin -- the painting caused a scandal when it was unveiled in 1884, and Sargent had to repaint a shoulder strap that had provocatively fallen off Madame X's shoulder. Today it looks both sexy and classy; the painting should be required viewing for the Kardashians and their imitators.

 

American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum 

WHAT Galleries for painting, sculpture and decorative arts

WHERE 1000 Fifth Ave.

WHEN Fridays and Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sundays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed Mondays.

INFO Suggested admission $25, 212-535-7710, metmuseum.org

You also may be interested in: