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Breck, Joseph

    Image Credit: The Met

    Full Name: Breck, Joseph

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1885

    Date Died: 1933

    Place Born: Waban, Middlesex, MA, USA

    Place Died: Villars sur Ollon, Vaud, Switzerland

    Home Country/ies: United States

    Subject Area(s): decorative art (art genre)

    Career(s): curators


    Assistant Director of the Metropolitan Museum and curator of Decorative Arts during the installation of the Cloisters Museum. Breck was the son of Joseph Francis Breck (d. 1929) and Annie Hayes Breck (d.1933). His father owned an agricultural seed and implement company in Massachusetts. While a student at Harvard University, he met Herbert Eustis Winlock, a future director of the Metropolitan. The two became close associates during their time together at the museum. At Harvard, he worked on the Harvard Lampoon where talents in art emerged. After graduation from Harvard in 1907, he traveled to Europe, returning to Harvard to take graduate courses. He joined the Metropolitan in 1909 as an assistant curator of decorative arts, under Wilhelm Rheinhold Otto Valentiner. In 1914 Breck resigned from the Met to become director of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. At Minneapolis, he was instrumental in bringing the Minneapolis Museum of Art into fruition. When World War I broke out, Valentiner, a native German, was required to return to Germany. Breck was hired back to the Met in Valentiner’s position as curator of the department of decorative arts in 1917. Breck set about installing the J. P. Morgan collection in the museum, a large donation the museum had recently acquired. In 1932 he was appointed director of the nascent Cloisters, the medieval satellite museum of the Met, then in its development stages. He suffered a heart attack with on a buying trip in Switzerland at age forty-eight. After Breck’s death, the department was divided into the three divisions, medieval art, under James Rorimer, Renaissance and modern art, under Preston Remington, and American Art, under Joseph Downs.

    Selected Bibliography

    The Library of the Late Joseph Breck. New York: American Art Association, Anderson Galleries, Inc., 1935; Italian Renaissance Sculpture: Twenty Pictures. New York; The Metropolitan Museum Press, 1933; introduction by, Peruvian Textiles: Examples of the Pre-Incaic Period. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1930; Catalogue of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance Sculpture. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1913.


    Forsyth, William. “Five Crucial People in the Building of the Cloisters.” in, Parker, Elizabeth C., and Shepard, Mary B. The Cloisters: Studies in Honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art/International Center of Medieval Art, 1992, pp. 51-62; [obituary:] “Josephy Breck Dies on Mission for Art.” New York Times August 3, 1933. p. 17


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Breck, Joseph." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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