European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, founded in 1870, possesses a comprehensive collection of cultural artifacts from every corner of the world. The collection spans over 5,000 years, from prehistoric times to the present day. This exhibition presents 65 great works, 46 of which are being shown in Japan for the first time, representing gems of art selected from the collection of more than 2,500 items in the possession of the Department of European Paintings, one of the Museum's 17 curatorial departments. It brings to Japan in a single group masterpieces from celebrated artists, the works of whom constitute the colorful pageant of Western painting over the 500 years from the fifteenth-century early Renaissance to the nineteenth-century Post-Impressionists. From Fra Angelico, Raphael, Cranach, Titian, and El Greco, to Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Velázquez, Poussin, Watteau, and Boucher, on to Goya, Turner, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cézanne, some of the greatest treasures that are the pride of The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be displayed for the enjoyment of visitors. The exhibition represents an opportunity that we hope all art lovers will take advantage of.

Date February 9 (Wed.) – May 30 (Mon.), 2022
Closed on Tuesdays (except for May 3)
Opening Hours 10:00-18:00
*10:00-20:00 on Fridays and Saturdays
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo
Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558
Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Nikkei Inc.; TV TOKYO Corporation; BS TV TOKYO Corporation; TBS; BS-TBS
With the support of American Embassy
With the sponsorship of Daiwa House Industry Co., Ltd.; TOPPAN INC.; Mitsubishi Corporation
(tax included)
General 2,100 yen (Adults), 1,400 yen (College students), 1,000 yen (High school students)
  • Visitors who are junior high school students or younger will be admitted for free.
  • Disabled persons (along with the one assistant) will be admitted for free upon presenting the Disabled Person’s Booklet or an equivalent form of government-issued ID.
  • It has been decided that there will not be free entrance days for high school students for this exhibition.
  • In order to ease congestion, an Advance Reservation System for "specified date/time tickets" has been implemented. For more information regarding tickets, please visit the ticket page on the exhibition website.(These services are only available in Japanese.)
  • It has been decided that Group Tickets will not be sold for this exhibition.
  • Reduction (100 yen off) applies to visitors who present the ticket stub of a current exhibition at The National Art Center, Tokyo; Suntory Museum of Art; or Mori Art Museum (Art Triangle Roppongi). Please show the ticket stub at the "European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York" exhibition ticket booth.
  • Students, faculty and staff, of “Campus Members”, can view this exhibition for 1,200 yen (students) and 1,900 yen (faculty/staff). Please purchase tickets at the " European Masterpieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York" exhibition ticket booth.
  • Credit card (UC, Master Card, VISA, JCB, AMEX, Diners Club, DISCOVER), e-cash (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.), iD, J-Debit and Union Pay are available for purchasing tickets.
Inquiries (+81) 47-316-2772 (Hello Dial)


The concept for The Metropolitan Museum of Art was first put forward by a group of Americans who had gathered in Paris on July 4, 1866 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of America's Declaration of Independence. The Museum was founded four years later, on April 13, 1870. Its mission was to encourage and develop the fine arts and related education for the people of America, and it was founded through the tenacious efforts of private citizens including businessmen, people of wealth, and artists. Although the Museum did not have a single work of art when it was first founded, its collection grew with the aid of donations from private collectors and the efforts of other stakeholders, finally opening to the public for the first time in a small building in Manhattan on February 20, 1872. In 1880, it moved to its present home in a building in Central Park. The Museum subsequently continued to grow, and today its collection contains over 1,500,000 archaeological artifacts and works of art from every region of the world, spanning more than 5,000 years from prehistoric times to the present.

Department of European Paintings

The collection of European paintings began with the purchase of 174 paintings from art dealers in Europe in 1871, one year after The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded. Since then, the collection has continued to expand through donations, bequests, and purchases, currently boasting over 2,500 paintings from European countries spanning the 13th to the early 20th centuries. The Department's permanent exhibition galleries are located on the second floor of the Museum, where the Skylights Project has been underway to update the lighting facilities. Until the diffusion of electric lighting at the end of the nineteenth century, paintings were both created and appreciated in natural light. The Skylights Project is an attempt to produce a more comfortable and natural environment for the appreciation of artworks by making use of natural light admitted through skylights to illuminate the gallery. It was the ensuing construction work for this project that provided the opportunity making the present exhibition possible.

Composition of the Exhibition

I. Devotion and Renaissance

After emerging in Florence, Renaissance culture flourished and spread across Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Moving away from the medieval worldview, centered on Christian faith and theology, it idealized and sought to give "rebirth (renaissance)" to the older humanist values of ancient Greece and Rome.

Italian Renaissance painters developed realistic, three-dimensional means of expression, taking their cue from classical antiquity. In contrast to the rather flat depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary typical of the Middle Ages―otherworldly images that emphasized their sanctity―Renaissance paintings were inclined to render them as fully rounded human figures. The space surrounding figures in Renaissance art also started to be arranged more rationally, such as by using the one-point perspective method to suggest depth. And, during this period, mythological painting featuring ancient Greek and Roman anthropomorphic deities joined religious painting based on Christian themes as a major genre.

Following the Protestant Reformation in northern Europe in the sixteenth century, the prohibition on the veneration of sacred images led, in Germany and the Netherlands, to an increased demand for mythological painting and portraiture in preference to religious painting. Paintings of the Northern Renaissance were characterized by detailed realism; and, in landscapes adopting the aerial perspective, artists mimicked the atmospheric phenomenon whereby more distant views appear bluer and hazier. The keen observation of nature and minute depictions to be found in works by northern artists greatly influenced Italian painters.

This chapter presents seventeen works by leading painters of the Italian and Northern Renaissance.

Fra Angelico―a posthumous nickname meaning "Angelic Brother"―was both a devoted Dominican friar and a leading painter of the early Renaissance in Italy. He was among the first painters to use one-point perspective to express three-dimensional space. In this depiction of Christ on the cross, his gold-filled background makes for a less than realistic setting, but he captures physical depth with an elliptical arrangement of the crowd that recedes into the distance. The result is a precious example of an early work that merges the unrealistic, planar expression of medieval art with the realism and three-dimensionality of Renaissance painting.

According to the New Testament, Christ led his apostles to the garden of Gethsemane at the Mount of Olives following the Last Supper. There, he prayed in anguish over his impending fate, while his disciples slept around him. This image of that moment was created by the legendary Renaissance artist Raphael around the age of 20 or 21. Originally, it adorned the predella, or base of an altarpiece, of Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (aka the Colonna Altarpiece), which Raphael painted for the convent Sant' Antonio di Padova in Perugia. This work allows the viewer to savor the delicate, graceful style of the young artist.

The Judgment of Paris, a mythological tale that became a popular theme in sixteenth-century Germany, was painted numerous times by German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder. Paris, the Prince of Troy, is called upon to determine who among three goddesses―Juno, Minerva, and Venus―should receive a golden apple addressed "To the fairest." He selects Venus as the recipient in return for her pledge to bestow upon him the most beautiful woman in the world. In this depiction, the messenger god Mercury, holding a crystal ball that stands in for the golden apple, introduces the three goddesses to Paris, who has just awakened from a nap in the forest. The vivid nude images of the goddesses, each shown at different angles (side, front, and back), lend a distinctive sensuality. This painting is a must-see for fine details such as the armor and jewelry, as well as the typically Northern European meticulous expression of nature, including the lush vegetation and precipitous crags.

II. Absolutism and Enlightenment

This chapter presents thirty masterpieces by artists from various countries who were active from the seventeenth century, a period in which Europe's absolute monarchs reasserted their sovereign power, through to the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment.

The Baroque style that emerged at the start of the seventeenth century in Rome, the center of the Catholic world, spread quickly throughout Europe in a rich array of guises. Characterized by strong light-and-shade contrasts and dramatic, vivid depictions, Baroque pictorial expression served to proclaim two loci of power, one sacred, the other secular: the Roman Catholic Church and the absolute monarchies.

In the Catholic sphere of influence, many paintings on religious subjects, dramatically rendered to inspire piety, were produced in Italy, Spain, and Flanders. And, particularly in Spain, painters executed magnificent portraits of royalty and the nobility. In the Dutch Republic, officially Protestant and with a developed civil society, other types of painting―landscapes depicting closely observed natural settings, still lifes of flowers and other objects, and genre paintings of everyday life―formed independent genres, ushering in a new phase of art history. In contrast, France under Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, favored art exalting the power of the sovereign. This led to the Classicist style of painting, marked by order and harmony, which was modeled after Classical and Renaissance art and based on theories propounded by the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (founded in 1648), arbiter of art policy for the state.

Late in Louis XIV's reign, at the start of the eighteenth century, the delicate and graceful style of the Rococo appeared, seemingly in reaction against austere classicism, and held great appeal until the middle of the century. Another aspect of the French experience at this time was the number of artists who gained prominence while executing works low in the academy's hierarchy of subject matter, such as genre painting and still life.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment had penetrated European society. With Rococo art in France now encountering criticism for its vulgar and sensual aspects, Neoclassicism took center stage. Drawing inspiration from the art of ancient Greece and Rome, it pursued the very ideal of beauty. During this period, women began to make conspicuous contributions in various fields of endeavor by pushing past social restrictions. Though modest in number, professional women painters emerged and gained fame. At the same time, the Royal Academy of Arts was founded in London in 1768, following similar institutions established on the Continent, a move that affirmed the newly elevated status of British painters.

The greatest master of seventeenth-century Italian painting, Caravaggio played a dominant role in the formation of the Baroque style with his true-to-life portrayals and dramatic interplay of light and shadow. He was 26 when he painted this work for his first patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte, in 1597. In that year, Caravaggio was welcomed to join the household of del Monte. The cardinal was an avid supporter of the arts who used his home to host musical and theatrical performances by youths, and it would seem that Caravaggio used some of those performers as the models for this work. However, the addition of Cupid at the left has given rise to the theory that this painting was intended not as a mere recreation of a recital, but as an allegory of music and love. The second figure from the right, the youth holding a horn, is speculated to be the painter's self-portrait. The young musicians' smooth, lustrous skin has an androgynous air that reflects Caravaggio's brand of languid sensuality.

Georges de La Tour was mostly active in the Duchy of Lorraine (today part of northeast France) in the seventeenth century. His prowess was such that he gained an appointment as painter to Louis XIII, yet he was soon forgotten after his death and remained so until his reappraisal in the twentieth century. His works are largely divided into two camps―"day paintings" bathed in brilliant light, and "night paintings" that illuminate their subjects with candlelight. A member of the first group, The Fortune-Teller shows a young man whose attention is riveted on an old fortune-teller as the surrounding young women rob him of his purse and jewelry. His rigid pose, glaring stare, and eccentric, brightly colored attire create a powerful impression. The theme of fortune-telling spread among European artists in this era, sparked by an early seventeenth-century work by Caravaggio. While La Tour's paintings suggest Caravaggio's influence on the choice of subjects and the use of light and shadow, it is unclear how La Tour came into contact with this trend.

Seventeenth-century Dutch artist Vermeer is best known for his small genre paintings that tranquilly depicted the everyday life of his fellow Hollanders, but this work from his last years is an unusual allegorical painting within the artist's oeuvre. The woman, sitting in front of a painting of the Crucifixion, personifies Faith. The hand on her breast indicates the source of living faith, while the placement of a foot on the globe is interpreted as an expression of the Catholic Church's dominion over the world. The crucifix, chalice, and missal on the table suggest the celebration of the Mass. On the floor are an apple, representing original sin, and a serpent crushed by the cornerstone of the Church (Christ). In the officially Protestant Dutch Republic, Catholics were forbidden to worship in public, but they were permitted to celebrate the Mass and hold other religious meetings within private homes, so-called "hidden churches (schuilkerken)." The room depicted in this work may refer to such a church. Vermeer converted to Catholicism before his 1653 marriage.

With their depiction of sensuous mythological scenes and men and women relaxing in pastoral settings, François Boucher's vibrant, brilliantly colored paintings brought eighteenth-century French rococo art to its height, gaining Boucher great popularity among royalty and the nobility and making him a favorite of Louis XV's official mistress Madame Pompadour for more than 15 years. The Toilette of Venus was originally painted to adorn the appartement des bains of the Château de Bellevue, built for Madame Pompadour in the Paris suburbs, and forms a pair with The Bath of Venus (National Gallery of Art, Washington). The nude figure of Venus with her alluring neck tilted to one side has the whiteness and smoothness of porcelain, imparting an air of sweet sensuousness. Cupid and white doves are traditional attributes of Venus. The luxurious and superbly executed texture accentuate the opulent atmosphere.

The second half of the eighteenth century in France saw women challenging social restraints to play an increasingly active role in various fields. Reflecting this was the emergence of professional female painters, such as Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, exclusive portrait painter to Marie Antoinette. Marie Denise Villers, who belonged to the next generation of painters after Vigée Le Brun, studied painting under the Academician Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, and exhibited her artwork several times at the Salon between 1799 and 1814. For many years, Marie Joséphine Charlotte du Val d'Ognes (died 1868) was thought to have been painted by the prominent Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David, but questions were raised around the middle of the twentieth century, and in 1996, a researcher declared it to be the work of Villers. Her skill is apparent in the clear, uncluttered composition, and the deft use of backlight. The work exemplifies progress in the field of research on female painters.

III. Revolution and Art for the People

The nineteenth century was a time of great upheaval as the tide of modernization swept across Europe. Taking for its historical context the development of civil society, this chapter presents eighteen masterpieces by painters of the era noted for their innovative approach to art.

The eruption of the French Revolution in 1789 proved a turning point not only for France but for the whole of Europe, ushering in modern society. The revolutionary wave reached its peak in 1848 when popular uprisings engulfed many countries. In the art world, different movements arose, one after another, reflecting the rapid changes in society. During the first half of the nineteenth century, Romanticism gained a following with depictions of fantastic landscapes and narrative scenes. The individual artist's sensibility and unfettered imagination held sway, in reaction against academicism's rigid pursuit of a universal ideal of beauty modeled on ancient art. In the middle of the century, Realism came to the fore with its precise and truthful depictions of subjects, such as the daily lives of farmers and laborers, and renderings of spontaneous scenes eschewing idealization.

The achievements of Realism were inherited by Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, who began depicting various aspects of urban life in Paris as modernization took hold, as well as by Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir, whose works came to be known by the term "Impressionism" in the late 1870s. Impressionist painters directed their gaze toward the remodeled thoroughfares of Paris and to the city's environs, viewed under different weathers, and attempted to capture on canvas the fleeting image of a moment, using pure colors and small, dab-like brushstrokes.

The second half of the 1880s saw the appearance of painters, including Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh, who, in respect to both methods and ideas, departed from Impressionism. Their works, while varying widely themselves, are generally grouped under the umbrella term of "Post-Impressionism." Characterized by, among other things, simplified forms, flat composition, and intense coloring (with frequent use of primary colors), they heralded the avant-garde art of the early twentieth century.

Many impressionist artists painted landscapes, but Renoir made his name as a painter of portraits and human figures. Renoir's focus on the human form stayed with him until the end of his life and his paintings feature young women with plump bodies. For Renoir, these women represented the ideal motif for addressing the kinds of challenges confronting the painter, such as the expression of volume and light effects. A Young Girl with Daisies, produced in 1889, fuses the classical style with which Renoir experimented in the 1880s with a softer and lighter touch. The human figure and the scenery are both depicted in soft shades of light and dark without the use of line drawings and the entire image is imbued with beautiful color harmony.

Edgar Degas had a fondness for dancers, who feature in many of his works. Dancers, Pink and Green depicts dancers arranging their costumes backstage as seen from the shadows of the wings. Degas liked to capture the actions of people at such unguarded moments. His use of close-ups and cut-off figures suggests the influence of ukiyoe, which were popular at the time, and of photography, a genre that developed in the nineteenth century. Degas' eyesight had already deteriorated considerably when he created this work. But this brilliantly colored painting shows that he still had a sharp eye for rendering the impromptu movements of dancers.

The solid form of the apples and pears depicted in this painting instill them with an extraordinary sense of presence. The table appears tilted and the walls distorted, but all the elements contained in the work are finely balanced to produce a highly stable composition. Devoting himself to his painting at Aix-en-Provence in southern France, Paul Cézanne strove to reproduce on canvas the vibrant sensations he felt from observation. Because of their groundbreaking style, Cézanne's works enjoyed little popularity among the masses at the time, but they were admired by progressive artists and art critics, and had an enormous influence on cubism and other avant-garde movements in the early twentieth century after Cézanne's death.

From around 1897, Monet made the water-lily pond in the garden of his Giverny home the main theme of his artwork for the next thirty years. Before long, he conceived the idea of adorning a whole room with works focused on water lilies, and from around 1915, he started producing a series of large wall paintings, which he called "Grandes Décorations." The work displayed here forms part of this series. The mysterious scene, without perspective, reflects Monet's vision at a time when he was suffering from cataracts. Employing free brushstrokes of blue, green, yellow, white, and other colors, the work contrasts the fictive reflection of the sky and various plants in the pond water with the real water-lily leaves on the water's surface and aquatic plants under the water. Such abstract canvases, distinctly representative of Monet the innovator, are viewed as anticipating abstract expressionism.