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Thomas Hoving

Matt Schudel

Thomas Hoving, who may have been the most influential art museum director of the past 50 years, died Dec. 10 in New York. As director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1967 to 1977, Hoving helped usher in the era of the blockbuster exhibition and did a great deal of the background work to arrange the monumental exhibt of artifacts associated with the Egyptian King Tutankhamun.

Hoving was charismatic and charming and nothing if not a showman. He sometimes joked that his middle initials -- his full name was Thomas P.F. Hoving -- stood for "Publicity Forever."

His chief rival in the museum world was J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art from 1969 to 1992, and the two competed to buy art on the international market and to put on lavish exhibitions. When Brown outmaneuvered Hoving to purchase the Leonardo da Vinci painting "Ginevra de'Benci" for the National Gallery, Hoving was beside himself.

"I still wake up occasionally at 3 in the morning and say, 'We should have gotten that!' " Hoving said. "When I'm an old man, I'll be muttering, 'Leonardo,' and people in the nursing home will say, 'How sad, he thinks he's Leonardo.' "

After leaving the Meetropolitan Museum in 1977, Hoving never worked as a full-time curator or museum director again, but he stayed in touch with the art world as editor of Connoisseur magazine and with frequent appearances on television. For all his faults, he had a warm, engaging enthusiasm that is much in evidence in this brief clip:

By Matt Schudel  |  December 12, 2009; 11:52 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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