LIVES| Thomas P.F. Hoving, retired director of the Met, 1931-2009

HovingThomas P.F. Hoving chats with Mayor John Lindsay during a walking tour of one of New York’s parks in 1966. Hoving erved briefly as Lindsay’s parks chief before assuming the reins of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Pearsall Field Hoving, the groundbreaking director of the Metropolitan Museum whose reign secured its place as the nation’s greatest museum, has died. He was 78 and suffered from lung cancer.

Born in Manhattan Jan. 15, 1931, Mr. Hoving was educated at Buckley, Eaglebrook, Exeter and Hotchkiss. After Hotchkiss, he worked as a copy boy for the late Daily Mirror. He was graduated from Princeton in 1953 and he later earned both a master’s degree and a doctorate in art history.

From Hoving’s Times obituary:

He earned a master’s, then a doctorate, in art history at Princeton. Then, in 1958, after a lecture he gave at the Frick Collection on the Annibale Carracci frescoes at the Farnese Palace in Rome, a man he didn’t recognize and who didn’t introduce himself invited Mr. Hoving to take a walk up Fifth Avenue to the Met to see a marble table that had once graced the palace. The man turned out to be James J. Rorimer, the Met’s director, who offered Mr. Hoving a job.

Mr. Hoving remained at the Met until 1965 when, upon the election of John V. Lindsay as the city’s mayor, he was named parks commissioner. His stint at Parks was short — when Met director James Rorimer died in 1966, Hoving was named his replacement.

Hoving’s run at the top of America’s greatest art institution was transformational.

A character whose existence could only have been possible in the lost New York he inhabited, Hoving vastly expanded the collections of the museum. He landed the Temple of Dendur, an entire prairie-style house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, expanded the American wing, added collections of Islamic, African and Pacific art and more.

Hoving was a hero for all of this in my household, wherein my mother never ceased to sing his praises. “King of Confessors,” the director’s 1981 memoir about the museum’s acquisition of the Bury St. Edmunds cross, a Medieval ivory masterpiece and other treasures, was required reading for her son.

A hero of Old New York, he will be greatly missed.

UPDATE: Here’s Hoving with Barbaralee Diamonstein in the 1970s:

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