One hundred and forty-five years ago on February 20th, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors to the public for the first time at 681 Fifth Avenue.
At the time the museum was founded two years earlier, it did not have a building, any staff, or a single work of art. The first significant acquisition of 174 European old master paintings, the "Purchase of 1871", was quite risky and scandalous at the time!
The Museum's act of incorporation was granted in 1870 by the New York State legislature "for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said City a Museum and Library of Art, of encouraging and developing the Study of the Fine Arts, and the application of Art to manufacture and natural life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and to that end of furnishing popular instruction and recreations."
The Met ran a series of these educational programs, providing vocational training and classes in the fine arts, with a series known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art Schools.
The Met is the largest art museum in the US, with a permanent collection boasting over two million works spanning over 5,000 years. The encyclopedic collection at 1000 Fifth Avenue houses works among 17 departments, including classical antiquity, ancient Egypt, Africa, Oceania, the Americas, Islamic Art, European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts, and the Costume Institute, among others. It has two other locations: the Met Cloisters, and the newly-opened Met Breuer.
This image, a wood-engraving published in Frank Leslie's Weekly, commemorates the opening reception in the picture gallery at the Met's first location.