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Famous Paintings and Highlights of the MET

Updated: November 10, 2023
 By Courtney

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the biggest and best museums in the world with a collection of over 2 million pieces of art and artifacts.

It would take someone at least several days to see all the work on display. But what if you have just a few hours to visit The Met?

Famous Paintings At The Met

Our list below of famous artwork at The Metropolitan Museum of Art should get you off to a good start.

The Death of Socrates, Jacques-Louis David, 1787 

Gallery 614. This Neoclassical work is one of the most famous paintings at The Met.

It portrays the moments just before the death of the great philosopher Socrates, based on his student Plato’s record of the event.

At the time of his death by suicide, a tyrannical Athenian government was in control. Socrates’ teachings were deemed to be corrupting the young. 

Death of Socrates

Put on trial and condemned for his beliefs, he was offered the option of renouncing his ideas or drinking poison.

Socrates chose the latter and died for his beliefs. 

This masterpiece captures in a lifelike manner the sadness of Socrates’ followers contrasted with Socrates’s calm as he, according to Plato, “died nobly and without fear.”

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

Gallery 825. One of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings was completed during his stay with his brother Vincent in Paris from 1886-1888.

During these two years, Van Gogh produced more than 20 self-portraits.

Van Gogh Self portrait with a straw hat

When short of funds and unable to hire a model to sit for him, Van Gogh “purposely bought a good enough mirror to work from myself". 

The short, sharp strokes capture something of the artist’s essence while the somber look on his face is one the world has come to know so well.

Washington Crossing The Delaware, Emanuel Leutze, 1851

Gallery 760. This painting stands out among the hundreds of paintings in The Met for its sheer size alone.

At 12.4 feet by 21.3 feet (3.8m by 6.5 m), it takes up a large portion of the wall upon which it hangs.

It’s not only epic in size but also historic significance.

The scene depicts the night of December 25, 1776, when General George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River. 

Washington Crossing The Delaware

Washington launched a surprise attack on a Hessian military base where Hessian soldiers hired by the British were stationed. 

Morale was low among the Continental Army, and Washington was determined to score a victory by the end of the year.

The mission’s success re-ignited the passion for the cause of the patriots. This painting is now an American icon.

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

Gallery 819. In 1893, Monet, regarded as the father of Impressionism, purchased land near his property in Giverny, France.

The land included a pond he planned to turn into a “pleasure of the eye and also for motifs to paint.”

Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies

He succeeded splendidly as his pond inspired him to start a series of 18 views of the small footbridge over the pond. 

The vertical format of the painting is unusual for the series. Monet chose this format to draw the viewer to the water lilies and their reflections in the water.

The Dance Class, Edgar Degas, 1874

Gallery 815. Degas was one of the famed French Impressionist painters. He is known primarily for his dance-themed works, specifically ballerinas. 

Degas painted over 600 ballet scenes, mainly rehearsals and backstage views. He was fascinated by movement as well as the atmosphere created by artificial, indoor light. 

The Dance Class

Degas said that natural light was “too easy”, indirectly and controversially critiquing other Impressionist painters who favored outdoor settings.

Degas’s use of light can be compared with the next Met painting by Vermeer, called the master of light.

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, Johannes Vermeer, 1662

Gallery 630. This Dutch master worked in the Baroque style. It’s believed that in his life he painted approximately 45 works. 

Of the thirty-four paintings that survive, The Met has five of them, more than any other museum in the world. (Three more are a few blocks away at The Frick Collection).

Young Woman with a Water Pitcher

Painted early on in his career, and with no formal training, Vermeer came to master the depiction of light across different surfaces.

Daylight streams through the window reflected in the golden window frame. 

The woman’s white bonnet is semi-translucent, catching the light in its folds.

The light bounces off the metal pitcher and bowl which have reflections of the cloth underneath them. 

This painting demonstrates why Vermeer’s works are so revered today.

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30, Jackson Pollock, 1950

Gallery 919. Jackson Pollock, one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionism movement, created this large canvas using his innovative poured-painting technique. 

Pollock worked on the canvas while it lay flat on the floor, so he could move the canvas and apply the paint from all four sides.

Autumn Rhythm: Number 30

This afforded him the freedom to use his technique of flicking, splattering, and dripping paint onto the canvas.

The beauty of visiting The Met is having the opportunity to contrast works like this one with other dramatically different works, like Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher, painted 300 years apart.

Temple of Dendur, c. 10 BC

Gallery 131. This Egyptian temple completed by 10 BC, was rebuilt from its original stones and blocks.

Visitors may walk through the structure and even touch it, essentially transporting one to Ancient Egypt.

The temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, and the gods Harpocrates and Osiris, is a gem of The Met. 

 Temple of Dendur

Its splendor is enhanced by its placement in the incredible Sackler Wing in a manner that mimics its location in Egypt. 

The reflecting pool represents the Nile River and the sloping wall behind the temple represents the cliffs nearby the temple.

The stippled glass wall diffuses the light to recreate the temple’s outdoor lighting. 

The Temple of Dendur is a ‘must-see’ at The Met.

A Human-Headed Winged Lion (lamassu), unknown sculptor, c. 883-859 BC

Gallery 401. In the 9th century BC, the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II built a palace in Nimrud (today’s northern Iraq). 

Guarding the entrance to the palace was this pair of lamassu, a human-headed winged lion, representing a female deity. 

A Human-Headed Winged Lion (lamassu)

These powerful, menacing creatures supported the main doorways of many Assyrian palaces to protect the king from evil.

An interesting feature is the lamasuu’s five legs.

The addition of a leg gave the appearance of standing firmly upon approach but striding forward when viewed from the side.

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut, unknown sculptor, c. 1479-1458 BC

Gallery 131. The female Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut ruled in the 15th century BC. At her burial site, six granite sphinxes stood guard. 

Her successor, Thutmose III, ordered that they be destroyed. Ultimately, fragments of this sphinx were gathered and reformed into this enormous sculpture. 

The Sphinx of Hatshepsut

This sphinx depicts Hatshepsut with the body of a lion and a human head wearing a nemes (traditional headcloth). 

Unlike the most famous sphinx at the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx of Hatshepsut has a nose.

Amazing Spaces

All the famous art at The Met might not appear so spectacular if they were not curated in the manner they are.

Great pieces of art deserve great spaces to be displayed. The Met does not fall short!

American Wing Court

The Charles Engelhard Court is an expansive light-filled space serving as the vestibule to the American Wing.

The glassed-in courtyard features stained-glass windows and large-scale American sculptures. 

Sculpture garden at the metropolitan museum of art

One end of the court is the actual Neoclassical facade of the Branch Bank of the United States, originally located on Wall Street.

When the bank was torn down, its facade was moved to the museum.

This court is one of The Met’s most popular spaces to sit and relax. There is also a cafe if you want to grab some light fare.

European Sculpture Court

The light and airy Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court is filled with French and Italian works from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. 

European Sculpture Court

The court is designed to look like a French garden and contains sculptures that were once displayed outdoors.

At the end of the court is a wall of windows facing Central Park.

Greek and Roman Art Court

The Met’s collection has more than 30,000 sculptures, objects and artifacts that date from the Neolithic period (ca. 4500 B.C.) up to A.D. 312 when Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.

Greek and Roman Art Court

This monumental collection deserves a monumental space to be seen, hence the creation of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court in 2007.

This huge peristyle court in a two-story skylit atrium is a "museum-within-the-museum" as impressive as the historic art and objects on display within.

The Cantor Roof Garden

Above the museum is this large rooftop garden with unrivaled views of Central Park and the surrounding buildings.

Cantor Roof Garden

There are two bars on either end of the rooftop. Sometimes the roof garden will feature a contemporary art installation. 

Hours are Sunday-Tuesday and Thursday 11 am to 4:15 pm, Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm, and again from 5 pm to 8:30 pm. Closed Wednesday.

How To Visit The Met

For information on visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art, read our in-depth post, Metropolitan Museum of Art Tickets and Discounts, and watch the video below.

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About The Author


Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others. She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.
Updated: November 10th, 2023
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