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U.S. historical art treasures shine again at N.Y. museum

Jan. 15, 2012 - 19:17 By Shin Hae-in
NEW YORK (AFP) ― The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York unveiled new galleries dedicated to the history of American painting, sculpture and design, some of which museum officials said displayed the country’s “crown jewels.”

The new galleries are part of a $100 million renovation of the museum.

“Today we celebrate 10 years since the beginning of the project to reimagine, reinvent and rebuild the American Wing,” said Morrison Heckscher, chairman on the “American Wing,” during a presentation to the news media. “This is a big moment for the Met and for the American Wing.”

Renovation of the galleries for American art from the 18th century to early 20th century began after Heckscher and his team concluded the previous galleries “were not doing justice to the collection display.”

The 26 classically-styled renovated rooms occupy about 2,800 square meters, representing a “total reconfiguration of the space” and creating “modern galleries with a very historic feel,” Heckscher said.

A centerpiece of the American Wing is the immense oil painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze, which depicts the peak of the American War of Independence.

Leutze, a German American, painted the picture in Germany in 1851. It shows the revolutionary hero and first U.S. president with his troops in a wooden boat crossing the ice-laden river that separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey on Christmas 1776.

Another emblematic painting is “The Last Moments of John Brown,” painted in the late nineteenth century by the Irish-American Thomas Hovenden. It shows the abolitionist leader kissing a black baby on the way to the gallows just before the outbreak of the American Civil War.

A recurring theme of American art is spectacular landscapes of the New World, which often are portrayed in the “Hudson River School” style of paintings.

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century art movement embodied by landscape painters such as Thomas Cole whose art reflected romanticism, particularly for images from New York’s Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area.

The galleries are arranged to provide a tour of American art trends, from colonial period portraits (1730-1776) by artists such as John Singleton Copley to American Impressionism (1880-1920).