A skillful and fascinating retelling of the often testy relationship between J. P. Morgan and Roger Fry, two men who did more to establish the preeminence of the Metropolitan Museum of Art than any collector and curator before or since
Shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, the Metropolitan Museum of Art began an ambitious program of collection building and physical expansion that transformed it into one of the world’s foremost museums, an eminence that it has maintained ever since. Two men of singular qualities and accomplishments played key roles in the Met’s transformation—J. P. Morgan, America’s leading financier and a prominent art collector, and Roger Fry, the headstrong English expert in art history who served as the Met’s curator of painting. Their complicated, often contentious relationship embodies and illuminates the myriad tensions between commerce and art, philanthropists and professional staff, that a great museum must negotiate to define and fulfill its mission.
In this masterful, multidisciplinary narrative, Charles Molesworth offers the first in-depth look at how Morgan and Fry helped to mold the cultural legacy of masterpieces of painting and the development of the “encyclopedic” museum. Structuring the book as a joint biography, Molesworth describes how Morgan used his vast wealth to bring European art to an American citizenry, while Fry brought high standards of art history from the world of connoisseurs to a general public. Their clashes over the purpose and functions of the Met, which ultimately led to Fry’s ouster, reveal the forces—personal and societal—that helped to shape the Metropolitan Museum and other major American cultural institutions during the twentieth century.
- Introduction: Two Differing Portraits
- Chapter I. The Birth of Dynastic Finance: J. Pierpont Morgan
- Chapter II. The Esthetic Education of an Art Critic: Roger Fry
- Chapter III. The Metropolitan Museum: Acquisitions and Expertise
- Chapter IV. The Metropolitan and the Conflicts of a New Vision
- Chapter V. Morgan and the Building of an Encyclopedic Museum
- Chapter VI. Growth of an Art Expert: Fry's Radical Vision
- Coda. Fry and Modern Theories: Taste, Teaching, and Social Values
"[A]n engrossing book with as much appeal to a general audience as to scholars."
Journal of American Studies
“An engaging, accessible, thoroughly readable study of the interpenetration of art and commerce in the Anglo-American art world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
Jeffrey L. Meikle, Professor in American Studies, University of Texas at Austin