Mayor, A[lpheus] Hyatt

Date born: 1901

Place born: Gloucester, MA

Date died: 1980

Place died: New York, NY

Metropolitan Museum of Art Curator of Prints 1946-1966. Mayor was born to Alfred Goldsborough Mayor (1868-1922) and Harriet Hyatt (Mayor) (1868-1960). His father was a marine biologist and his grandfather and namesake the famous biologist Alpheus Hyatt (1838-1902) and his mother a sculptor. Mayor was born in the house which later became part of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. A maternal aunt and uncle were the wealthy art patrons Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), also a sculptor, and Archer M. Huntington (1870-1955), founder of the Hispanic Society of America in 1904. Mayor received an A. B., from Princeton University in 1922. After teaching art history at Vassar for a year--he had only taken two art courses as an undergraduate--Mayor was awarded a Rhodes scholarship which allowed him take a second bachelor's degree at Christ Church, College, Oxford University in 1926. Intent on being a literary scholar and novelist, he met the celebrated hostess Lady Ottoline Morell (1873-1938), with whom he wintered in Florence. In Italy visited the famous Harvard art historian Bernard Berenson (q.v.). Between 1926-1927 he spent at the American School of Classical Studies. Returning to the United States, he lectured (on acting) at the School of the American Laboratory Theatre in New York City in 1928. There he met Lincoln Kirstein (q.v.) and worked on the literary magazine, Hound and Horn. In 1932 he left the School, married Virginia Sluder, and, desperately looking for an art job in the height of the Depression, he accepted an offer from William Ivins, jr., (q.v.) to join the Department of Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. In 1946 he succeeded Ivins as Curator in the department. His tenure as curator was marked by the acquisition of the celebrated print collection of the Prince of Leichtenstein in the late 1940s. The terms of the sale stipulated that the collection be sold en masse. Mayor arranged with the dealer Colnaghi to purchase the less-famous artists, ignoring the Rembrandts and Dürers, thereby making the sale possible and giving the Met first choice among the "reproductive prints" which were underappreciated at the time. Other items in the sale went to the British Museum through the efforts of Arthur E. Popham (q.v.). In 1955 he succeeded his uncle as president of the Hispanic Society. In 1966 he retired emeritus. In his retirement years, Mayor worked on several long-standing art projects. One was the translation and reissue of the critical catalog of print catalog by the art historian Max Lehr (q.v.), Geschichte und kritischer Katalog des deutschen, niederländischen, und französichen Kupferstichs, 1908-1934. This appeared in 1969 as Late Gothic Engravings of Germany & the Netherlands. In the early 1970s, together with Anthony Blunt (q.v.) he edited the new illustrated edition of the wood engravings volumes (vols. 12-21) of Le peintre graveur, by Adam, Ritter von Bartsch (q.v.). He was president of the Hispanic Society of America, New York City, from 1955-80 and awarded a Boston Museum Award, 1971.

Mayor presided over the Metropolitan's Department of Prints during a period of development. Building on Ivins' important acquisitions of the first half of the century, Museum staff characterized Mayor's tenure as one of "filling in the valleys between Ivins' mountain-top masterworks." This was in no way a sleight; Mayor frequently purchased less sought after pieces from great print collections, as in the case of the Prince of Leichtenstein's sale, artists who later reputations would validate Mayor's critical judgment. In addition to adding to the museum's holdings of engravings and woodblocks, he also sought to broaden the collection to include all aspects of printing: wine labels, mail-order catalogs, and perhaps the finest collection of cigarette insert-cards. Although an art historian in the connoisseur tradition, he conceived of prints, ironically for a museum curator, as popular forms of communication. His Prints and People: A Social History of Printed Pictures (1952) sets graphics in the context of social communication.

Home Country: United States

Sources: "Museum Curator Refuses to 'Rust'." New York Times June 19, 1966. p. 71; Cummings, Paul. "An Interview with A. Hyatt Mayor." Archives of American Art Journal 18, no. 4 (1978): 2-19; "A. Hyatt Mayor Abroad." Archives of American Art Journal 32 no. 4. (1992): 2-18; [obituaries:] Glueck, Grace. "A. Hyatt Mayor, Former Curator of Prints at the Metropolitan, 78." New York Times March 1, 1980, p. 26; Lynes, Russell. Art News 79 (Summer 1980): 121; Shaw, James Byam. The Burlington Magazine 122 (June 1980): 439; The Print Collector's Newsletter 11 (May 1980): 48.

Bibliography: [complete bibliography:] A. Hyatt Mayor: Selected Writings and a Bibliography. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1983; and Davis, Mark. American Art at the Century. New York: Century Association, 1977; and Noble, Joseph Veach. A Century of American Sculpture: Treasures from Brookgreen Gardens. New York: Abbeville Press, 1981; edited, Lehrs, Max. Late Gothic Engravings of Germany & the Netherlands: 682 copperplates from the "Kritischer Katalog." New York: Dover Publications, 1969; Popular Prints of the Americas. New York: Crown Publishers, 1973; Prints & People: a Social History of Printed Pictures. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Princeton University Press, 1972; edited, with Blunt, Anthony. Bartsch, Adam von. Le Peintre graveur illustré: Illustrations to Adam Bartsch's Le peintre graveur, Volumes XII-XXI. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971ff.; Giovanni Battista Piranesi. New York: H. Bittner, 1952.

copyright 2008 Dictionary of Art Historians, All rights reserved