The Director’s Circle

(December 5, 2020) James. J. Rorimer, was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (@metmuseum) from 1955-66. Hired straight out of college, he spent his entire career there, first as an assistant in the department of Decorative Arts rising quickly to become Curator of Medieval Art in 1934. Rorimer used his new role to

realize his mentor Joseph Breck’s dream: the planning and construction of the Cloisters, the museum’s new medieval extension in Fort Tryon Park. It opened in 1938 and Rorimer was named its curator, becoming its chief fundraiser and visionary. Most of the works he acquired are among the collection’s iconic masterpieces, especially The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries. Rorimer’s career was interrupted by WWII, and he signed up as an infantryman in the United States Army. He was soon appointed to a job more suited to his specialized skills, as an officer of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section–the so-called Monuments Men–in Normandy and Paris, and, later, in Germany. He later published an account of his war experiences entitled Survival:The Salvage and Protection of Art in War.

Rorimer returned to the Met as Director of the Cloisters, reporting directly to then Met director, Francis Henry Taylor. Rorimer succeeded him as director in 1955. Despite a reputation for being contentious with staff and trustees alike, which in today’s cancel culture might find him instantly unemployed, he led the institution to many notable milestones, including its acquisition of Rembrandt’s Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. He also moved the Met into its role as international cultural ambassador, when he hosted the first annual meeting of the International Council of Museums (ICOM) to be held outside of Europe in 1965, coinciding with that year’s New York World’s Fair. (excerpted from my Instagram. To see all images go to here)