Grand Staircase, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

The Grand Staircase, seen from the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, around 1902-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos show the view in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, facing west from just inside the main entrance. In the center of the scene, just beyond the columns, is the Grand Staircase. Both the Great Hall and the staircase were completed in 1902, as part of an expansion that was designed by noted architect Richard Morris Hunt. Prior to this, the museum was much smaller and set back from Fifth Avenue in Central Park. However, Hunt’s addition extended the museum eastward all the way to the street, in the process creating a Beaux-Arts masterpiece that ranks among New York’s most important architectural works of the early 20th century.

Upon completion, the museum used the Great Hall as a sculpture gallery, with a mix of ancient and modern statues on display here. There were no statues here in the central part of the room, as shown here, but there were a few in the niches in the walls, along with others along the walls of the vestibule between the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase. Some of the identifiable works here in this scene include California (1858) by Hiram Powers, located in the niche on the left side; Aqua Viva (1884) by Frank Edwin Elwell, between the first and second columns from the left; and just to the right of it a bust of Pierre Jean de Béranger (1834) by Pierre Jean David d’Angers. There is also a statue of Napoleon between the third and fourth columns, although the artist’s name is not legible from this distance.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the statues that were once displayed here in the Great Hall have since been relocated to other parts of the museum. Even the statues in the niches are gone, having been replaced by floral arrangements. The building is now substantially larger than it was in the early 20th century, but overall the Great Hall and the Grand Staircase look much the same as they did when they were completed. Aside from the lack of statuary, the only significant difference between these two photos is the information desk, which is now situated here in the center of the Great Hall, directly in front of the main entrance.

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The view looking south in the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, around 1907. Historic image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These photos show the same general view as the ones in an earlier post, although these were taken from the ground floor rather than the balcony. As discussed in that post, the Great Hall was completed in 1902 as part of an expansion of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it originally served as both an entrance hall and a sculpture gallery. The main entrance to the museum is on the left side, just beyond the columns. Directly opposite the entrance, on the right side of the scene, is the Grand Staircase, which led to the original part of the museum building.

The first photo was taken a few years after this wing of the museum was completed, showing it filled with a variety of sculptures. Some of the notable works here include Struggle of the Two Natures in Man by George Grey Barnard, which was carved from 1892 to 1894 and donated to the museum two years later. It stands in the foreground on the left side of the photo, and just beyond it in the distance is Evening (1891) by Frederick Wellington Ruckstull and Bacchante and Infant Faun (1894) by Frederick William MacMonnies. Other identifiable works include Latona and Her Children, Apollo and Diana (1874) by William Henry Rinehart, located in the lower right corner, and Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (1859) by Randolph Rogers, which is partially visible on the extreme right side of the photo.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, all of these identifiable statues are still in the museum’s collections, although they are now located in or near the Charles Engelhard Court, where a number of important American sculptures are on display. There are a few sculptures here in the present-day scene of the Great Hall, with the ancient Egyptian Colossal Seated Statue of a Pharaoh in the foreground, and the ancient Greek Athena Parthenos in the distance, but otherwise the Great Hall is used primarily as an entrance hall. There is now an information desk in the center, which is largely hidden from view by the crowd in the 2019 photo, and there are ticket counters at either end of the room.

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The view looking north in the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These photos show the Great Hall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, taken facing the opposite direction of the ones in the previous post. Here, the view is from the southeast corner of the room, with the main entrance just out of view to the right and the Grand Staircase on the left. When the first photo was taken, about five years after the Great Hall was completed in 1902, the space function as both an entrance hall and a sculpture gallery, featuring a variety of bronze and marble statues.

Many of these statues seem difficult to identify, but the one that is partially visible in the lower left corner is Sappho (1895) by Count Prosper d’Epinay, which remains on display elsewhere in the museum more than a century later. Other identifiable works include Medea (1869) by William Wetmore Story, located on the far right side; California (1858) by Hiram Powers, in the alcove on the left side; Bohemian Bear Tamer (1888) by Paul Wayland Bartlett, standing in the lower center of the scene; and Bacchante and Infant Faun (1894) by Frederick William MacMonnies, visible in the distance in the lower right center. All of these works likewise remain in the museum’s collections.

Today, the Great Hall remains in use as the museum’s main entrance, with few architectural changes since the first photo was taken. However, it no longer features a large statuary collection, as most of these works have been moved to other parts of the museum as the building has expanded. Even the statues in the alcoves have since been removed, and replaced by floral displays. Only two large statues still stand here, with one in front of each group of ticket counters. On the south side, closest to the foreground, is the Greek Statue of Athena Parthenos from around 170 B.C., and on the north side in the distance is the Egyptian Colossal Seated Statue of a Pharaoh from around 1919 to 1878 B.C.

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Looking south in the Great Hall in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in an earlier post, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been at its current location on Fifth Avenue since 1880, although it has gone through numerous expansions over the years. Perhaps the most architecturally-significant addition came in 1902, when a new main entrance was constructed in front of the older portion of the building. It was designed by prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt, and it featured ornate Beaux-Arts designs on both the exterior and interior.

The front entrance, located on the left side of the scene beyond the columns, opens into the Great Hall, which is shown here in this scene from the second floor balcony. Like the exterior, most of the interior here is made of limestone, and its ceiling consists of three domes supported by arches, which correspond to the three arches on the Fifth Avenue facade of the building. From here, visitors could proceed to the main portion of the museum by way of the Grand Staircase beyond the columns on the right, which was also designed by Hunt.

The first photo was taken within about five years after this wing was completed. At the time, the museum had a severe shortage of gallery space, and the Great Hall was used to display statues. This was probably not Hunt’s original intent for this space, though, and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens criticized it for being inadequate for such use. In 1905, he remarked, as quoted in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: An Architectural History, about “the dismal failure of Hunt’s hall for sculpture there. It may be good architecture and a glorious bath of Caracalla thing, but it’s a damn bad gallery for the proper disposition of works of art.”

As the first photo shows, the collection on display here in the Great Hall included a mix of both ancient and modern works. Many of these works are still owned by the museum, and one of the most notable of these is Bacchante and Infant Faun, which stands in the bottom center of the photo. Created in 1894 by Frederick William MacMonnies, this bronze sculpture was a gift of architect Charles Follen McKim, whose firm of McKim, Mead & White would later design several large additions to the museum.

Further in the distance, other identifiable works include, from roughly left to right, Medea (1869) by William Wetmore Story, Fisher Boy (1857) by Hiram Powers, The Bather (1894) by Edmund Austin Stewardson, Sappho (1895) by Count Prosper d’Epinay, Bohemian Bear Tamer (1888) by Paul Wayland Bartlett, Hector and Andromache (1871) by Giovanni Maria Benzoni, and Cleopatra (1869) by William Wetmore Story.

There are also at least three ancient sculptures here, with a large bronze statue of emperor Trebonianus Gallus (A.D. 251-253) standing between the columns in the distant center of the scene, and two headless statues of women on either side of it. The one on the left in this view is Greek, dating from the second half of the 4th century B.C., and the one on the right is a Roman copy of a Greek statue of Eirene, which was carved around A.D. 14-68. Both of these statues are now on display only yards away from where they once stood in the first photo, in a gallery beyond the columns in the distance.

Today, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has grown far beyond the confines of its early 20th century facility. The Great Hall is now used almost exclusively as an entrance hall, with only a few works on display here. In the present-day scene, there is an information desk in the center of the Great Hall, with ticket counters in front of the columns at both the north and south sides of the room. On the second floor balcony, on the left side of this view, is a cafe. Otherwise, though, the architecture itself has remained essentially unchanged since the Great Hall was completed more than a century ago, and it continues to welcome visitors into the museum, with nearly 6.5 million people passing through here in 2019.

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Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol, seen from the southeast corner around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in previous posts showing the north and south sides of this room, this was once the chamber for the U. S. House of Representatives, which met here from 1819 until the current chamber was opened in 1857. The room sat vacant for several years afterwards, amid a variety of proposals for its reuse. Then, in 1864 it was designated as the National Statuary Hall. Each state was invited to send two statues for display here, representing prominent citizens from the state’s history.

The states were slow in responding to this request, and the first statue, of Rhode Island’s Nathanael Green, did not arrive here until 1870. By the time the first photo was taken around 1904, there were 45 states in the union, yet only 27 statues here in the collection, 11 of which are shown in the photo. Going around the room from left to right, they are: Lewis Cass (MI), James Garfield (OH), William Allen (OH), Jacob Collamer (VT), Robert Fulton (PA), Nathanael Greene (RI), Roger Williams (RI), George Clinton (NY), Richard Stockton (NJ), James Shields (IL), and Philip Kearny (NJ).

Today, more than a century later, the Capitol’s collection is now complete, with 100 statues from all 50 states. This room still serves as Statuary Hall, although only 38 of the statues are currently here, and the rest are distributed throughout the Capitol building. Of the 11 from the first photo, only the statues of Cass and Fulton are still in this room, and only Fulton’s is visible in the second photo, just to the right of the mantlepiece in the lower right-center of the scene. Aside from the arrangement of the statues, though, very little has changed in this scene since the first photo was taken, and the room is one of several stops included on most public tours of the Capitol.

Statuary Hall, US Capitol, Washington, DC (2)

Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As discussed in more detail in an earlier post, this room was once occupied by the U. S. House of Representatives, which met here from 1819 until the opening of its current chamber in 1857. The House has two earlier chambers here on this same spot, starting in 1801 with a temporary brick structure. A more permanent chamber was completed here in 1807, although it was destroyed just seven years when the British burned Washington during the War of 1812.

This particular view faces the semicircular northern wall of the room, with the Rotunda and the Senate wing visible in the distance down the hallway. When completed, this wall was the rear of the House chamber, so this would have been the view looking up the central aisle from the Speaker’s rostrum. The chamber is surrounded by marble Corinthian columns, and the original design also included two statues. One of these, The Car of History, is visible in this scene above the doorway. It features the muse Clio recording history as she travels in a winged chariot that represents time, and it was created by sculptor Carlo Franzoni and installed in 1819.

The chamber remained in use by the House for nearly 40 years, and during this time it was the scene of many important debates and other events in the period leading up to the Civil War. However, by the mid-19th century the House was in need of a new chamber, in part because of the poor acoustics caused by the curved ceilings, and also because the steady admission of new states began to cause crowding here. Starting in the early 1850s, the Capitol underwent a major expansion, including the addition of a new dome and two large wings to accommodate new chambers for both the House and Senate. The House wing was completed in 1857, directly behind the spot where these photos were taken, and the House subsequently vacated this chamber.

In the years that followed, this space was the subject of several different proposals, including one that would have divided it into two floors of conference rooms. However, in 1864 it was designated as the National Statuary Hall, and each state was invited to send two statues to put on display here. The statues were slow in arriving, and it was not until 1971 that all 50 states were represented here. By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century there were about two dozen statues in the collection. Two of them, representing New Hampshire, are visible here in the first photo, with John Stark on the left and Daniel Webster on the right. Both arrived here in 1894, and they were both the work of noted sculptor Carl Conrads.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this room is still used as Statuary Hall. In 1976 it was partially restored to its original appearance, including the addition of curtains behind the columns, but otherwise this scene still looks essentially the same as it did at the turn of the 20th century. The statues themselves have been rearranged over the years, though. Because of overcrowding and structural concerns about the weight of the many statues, many have since been relocated to other parts of the Capitol. Thirteen of them, one from each of the original states, are now in the crypt below the rotunda, including New Hampshire’s statue of John Stark. The state’s other statue, of Daniel Webster, is still here in the room, although it is not visible from this particular angle.