On April 13, 1870 the Metropolitan Museum of Art is officially incorporated in New York City. The brainchild of American expatriates in Paris and a number of wealthy New Yorkers, the Met would not put on an exhibition until 1872, but it quickly blossomed into one of the world’s premier repositories of fine art, a position it holds to this day.
In 1866, a group of Paris-based American socialites that included the lawyer John Jay resolved to create “a national institution and gallery of art.” Jay and his friends appealed to the Union League Club of New York, which in turn gathered the social and political clout, as well as the financial backing, necessary for such an endeavor. On this day in 1870, the city granted them an Act of Incorporation, stipulating that the collection be kept open to the public year-round and free of charge.
The Met acquired its first object, a Roman sarcophagus, the following November. Its subsequent purchase of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriot Art, completed in 1876, made the Met North America’s premier destination for artifacts and artwork from Antiquity. Thanks in part to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, Jay was able to acquire a stunning 174 pieces by the Dutch Old Masters in 1871, giving the museum a substantial collection by the time it opened at its first location in 1872. In 1880, ten years after its founding, the Met moved to its current location on Fifth Avenue at 82 Street. The Met continues to display some of the world’s largest collections of European and Antique art, and has expanded to include works from every continent and nearly every medium. Today, the Met is not only one of the leading artistic and social institutions in New York but one of the best-known and most-visited museums in the world, hosting around 7 million visitors a year.