One of the world’s great art museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (usually referred to as just “the Met”) juts into Central Park. Its all-embracing collection amounts to more than two million works of art, spanning America and Europe as well as China, Africa, the Far East and the classical and Islamic worlds. You could spend weeks here and not see everything.
If you make just one visit, head for the European Painting galleries. Of the early (fifteenth- and sixteenth-century) Flemish and Dutch paintings, the best are by Jan van Eyck, who is generally credited with having started the tradition of north European realism. The Italian Renaissance is less spectacularly represented, but a worthy selection includes an early Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Raphael and Duccio’s sublime masterpiece Madonna and Child. Don’t miss the Spanish galleries, which include Goya’s widely reproduced portrait of a toddler in a red jumpsuit, Don Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, and a room of freaky, dazzling canvases by El Greco.
The nineteenth-century galleries house a startling array of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, showcasing Manet and Monet among others, and the compact twentieth-century collection features Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein and Gauguin’s masterly La Orana Maria, alongside works by Klee, Hopper and Matisse. The Medieval Galleries are no less exhaustive, with displays of sumptuous Byzantine metalwork and jewellery donated by J.P. Morgan, while the Asian Art galleries house plenty of murals, sculptures and textile art from Japan, China, Southeast and Central Asia and Korea. Close to being a museum in its own right, the American Wing is a thorough introduction to the development of fine art in America; the spectacular courtyard reopened in 2009, studded with sculpture from the likes of Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Other highlights include the imposing Temple of Dendur in the Egyptian section, and the Greek and Roman sculpture galleries, magnificently restored less than a decade ago.