What To See in the MET: 10 Masterpieces You Shouldn’t Miss

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, also known as The MET, is one of the world’s top museums and the biggest in the United States. 

It was founded in 1870 and has over 2 million works of art, covering 5,000 years of history.

With collections ranging from ancient Egypt to modern American art, this massive museum has something for everyone to explore. 

It’s so big that it can take days to see everything, especially with seventeen different departments to check out. 

To help you plan your visit, here are ten must-see pieces of artwork that will make the most of your time at The Met.

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, Vincent van Gogh, 1887

Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat
Image: Metmuseum.org

This painting, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, is one of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous works. 

You can find this painting in Gallery 825.

He painted it while he was living in Paris from 1886 to 1888. 

During this time, he stayed with his brother and made over twenty self-portraits using a mirror he bought. 

Van Gogh often painted himself when he couldn’t afford a model or didn’t feel like being around others. 

Looking at his serious expression in the painting, it seems he might have felt antisocial when he painted it. 

Each brushstroke in the painting shows his unique thick paint technique and captivates the viewer. 

The quick, sharp strokes in the painting give us a glimpse into Van Gogh’s personality. 

The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787

Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787
Image: Metmuseum.org

This painting by Jacques-Louis David shows the moments just before the death of the famous philosopher Socrates. 

It’s a Neoclassical work that depicts a critical moment in ancient Athens when Socrates was convicted of influencing the youth and rejecting the gods. 

Given the choice to give up his beliefs or drink poison hemlock, Socrates chose the latter and died for what he believed in. 

In the painting, Socrates, an old man, sits on a bed, reaching for the cup of poison with one hand while pointing upward with the other, maybe toward the sky. 

His followers watch in shock, some covering their eyes, as Socrates gives them one last lecture. 

In the background, a woman with her hand raised is considered Socrates’ wife, bidding him farewell. 

You can find this painting in Gallery 614.

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1899

Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, Claude Monet, 1899
Image: Wikipedia.org

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series is famous in art history. 

Over the last 30 years, Monet focused on the flower garden and pond in his backyard in Giverny. 

He was interested in capturing how light and the sun looked in his paintings and created over 250 oil paintings exploring this theme.

This particular version features his Japanese footbridge, which he painted in 12 18 paintings he completed in 1899. 

This timeless masterpiece is a must-see at The Met and can be found in Gallery 819.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, Raphael, around 1504

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints, Raphael, around 1504
Image: Metmuseum.org

This painting by Raphael was originally part of an altarpiece for the Franciscan convent of Sant’Antonio in Perugia. 

He finished it in the early 16th century during the Italian Renaissance. 

The saints in the painting wear traditional clothing, and even baby Jesus is fully dressed.

A fully dressed Jesus was painted, likely at the request of the nuns who had housed the painting for over a hundred years. 

In the center, Mary sits on a throne with saints surrounding her while she looks down at an infant St. John the Baptist. 

Above them, a canopy shows a heavenly scene with two angels and God at the center. 

You can see this painting in Gallery 962.

The Dance Class, Edgar Degas, 1874

Dance Class, Edgar Degas, 1874
Image: Wikipedia.org

Edgar Degas, a French Impressionist painter, focused on painting dancers, especially ballerinas. 

He captured their movements well by watching rehearsals at the Paris Opera House. 

In this painting, one ballerina performs an “attitude” while their teacher, Jules Perrault, watches. 

Other dancers are practicing nearby, waiting for their turn. 

Degas used different shades of color, and you can see his skill in this painting. 

Another famous ballet painting by Degas, Ballet Class, is at the Orsay Museum. 

You can find this one in Gallery 815.

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1653

Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, Rembrandt van Rijn

Image: Wikipedia.org

This painting by Rembrandt is considered one of the greatest portraits from the 17th century. 

It shows the Greek philosopher Aristotle standing with one hand on his hip and the other touching a bust of Homer. 

Aristotle appears deep in thought, perhaps comparing his achievements to Homer’s. 

He wears a gold chain with a medallion of Alexander the Great. 

Rembrandt used light to illuminate Aristotle’s face as if it were coming through a window. 

Sicilian patron Antonio Ruffo commissioned the painting, as seen in Gallery 964.

Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1883-1884

Madame X, John Singer Sargent, 1883-1884
Image: Wikipedia.org

Madame X is John Singer Sargent’s most famous work.

It portrays Virginie Avegno Gautreau, an American married to a French banker known for her beauty and style. 

Sargent painted her for the Paris Salon in 1884. 

She wore a striking black satin dress that contrasted with her pale skin. 

However, the painting stirred controversy because her dress strap slipped off her shoulder, revealing more skin than was considered proper at the time. 

Due to criticism, the painting was withdrawn from the exhibition. 

Today, it’s one of the Met’s most famous artworks, drawing large crowds interested in its story and beauty. 

You can find it in Gallery 771.

Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1931

Cow’s Skull Red, White, and Blue
Image: Twitter.com/metmuseum

Georgia O’Keeffe painted this piece as part of the Alfredi Stieglitz Collection. 

It’s an oil painting on canvas that she made in 1931.

O’Keeffe spent time in New Mexico and Lake George, New York, which changed her style. 

Instead of cityscapes, she focused on nature, especially skulls. 

In this painting, the worn surfaces and jagged edges of the cow’s skull represent the beauty of the American desert and the strength of the American spirit. 

The red, white, and blue background adds a patriotic touch.

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, Jackson Pollock, 1950

Autumn Rhythm Number 30, Jackson Pollock, 1950
Image: Facebook.com/metmuseum

Jackson Pollock was a leading figure in the Abstract Expressionism movement, and this painting is one of his most famous works. 

Created in 1950, it’s revolutionary for modern art. 

Pollock used poured painting, where he dripped, flicked, and splattered paint onto a large canvas. 

While it might look like random paint, it’s intentional, showing Pollock’s skill and intelligence. 

His influence extends beyond the art world, even impacting fashion. 

You can see this painting in Gallery 919.

Mark Rothko | 1958 | Oil and Acrylic with Powdered Pigments on Canvas

Mark Rothko
Image: Britannica.com

Mark Rothko’s art draws people in, even those who usually prefer Renaissance art, like myself. 

Unfortunately, Rothko struggled with depression and anxiety and turned to heavy drinking and smoking. 

Sadly, he took his own life at 66, despite finding success as an artist during his lifetime.

No. 13 (White, Red on Yellow) is a painting that uses bright colors to create a joyful feeling, unlike some of Rothko’s darker works. 

The vertical stripes of red and yellow seem to float above the canvas, thanks to Rothko’s “halo” technique. 

This effect was achieved by overlapping horizontal bands of color over the background.

According to the Met’s records, the translucent paint soaked into the canvas fibers, enhancing the halo effect. 

You can see this painting in Gallery 919.

Featured Image: CNN.com

About the author

Harshitha’s heart lies where greeny mountains meet stretches of beach. She believes getting lost is the best way to explore