The story behind the flowers in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

When you walk through the front doors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you enter a Neoclassical lobby that’s an architectural treasure in its own right—with dramatic archways, a marble floor, and a ceiling that seems to soar to the heavens.

But amid the coolness of the stone and marble, there’s a feature of the museum’s “Great Hall” that adds an aura of warmth and life: the giant urns that contain beautiful oversize fresh flower arrangements.

These lovely blooms change weekly; they tend to reflect the seasons. And just like every work of art displayed at the Met, there’s a story behind them.

The flowers were the idea of philanthropist Lila Acheson Wallace. In the late 1960s, she funded an endowment that would allow Met administrators to purchase and display weekly “starburst” flower arrangements throughout the lobby.

“An ephemeral addition to an otherwise timeless space, the florals change every Tuesday thanks to the generosity of a single donor, Lila Acheson Wallace, whose endowment in 1967 funded fresh flowers in perpetuity,” reported the New York Times in 2016.

Wallace herself reportedly wanted the flowers to convey to visitors, “we’re expecting you—welcome.”

Wallace, who with her husband founded Readers’ Digest in 1922, was a major benefactor of the Met. Museum-goers may recognize her name above the entrance to the Lila Acheson Wallace wing, which opened in 1987 to exhibit modern art.

Though she passed away in 1984, her endowment continues to grace the Great Hall and bring a sense of the present to a building famed for its antiquities.

[Top image: TomasEE/Wikipedia; third image: MetKids/Metmuseum.org]

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16 Responses to “The story behind the flowers in the lobby of the Metropolitan Museum of Art”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    Beautiful – what’s not to like?!?

  2. Martha Says:

    Lovely story!

  3. KellyB Says:

    I want to see the urn against the wall when it’s empty How is it designed? I want to know how are those tulips getting water? Their stems are not that long so how was the urn designed to keep the flowers alive? It has ALWAYS bugged me!

    Breathtakingly beautiful nonetheless.

    What Acheson did for visitors of the Met is a little like what what Lady Bird Johnson did for Washington DC and then the rest of the countryside. Perhaps the former First Lady was her inspiration. There are stunning before and after photos.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I don’t know anything about how the blooms get water, but I definitely agree that this seemingly minor feature of the Met’s lobby as a huge impact.

  4. rooseveltislandlady Says:

    The Wallaces and Reader’s Digest were great art collectors and were one of the great American donors that paid for the restoration of GIVERNY, Monet’s home in Vernon, France.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for this, and it doesn’t surprise me they gave generously to restore Monet’s home. They were big philanthropists and art lovers.

  5. Michael Z. - Midtown Manhattan Says:

    Wow – thanks for the history. I’ve always admired the flowers every visit to the MET.

  6. Ricky Says:

    The flower stems are put into flower water tubes, then attached to sticks or wired, flexible rods and placed into the arrangements. The flowers themselves are not necessarily expected to last all week long and are replaced as needed. Of course, some flowers last longer than others, and branches (or pussy willows as is the case in the info booth arrangement) could easily last all week long.

    Also sometimes the look of the arrangement will slightly change during the week as new flowers, and sometimes new kinds of flowers are used to replace the spent blooms.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thank you for this info Ricky!

    • KellyB Says:

      Thank you Rick. Now that you say that, I think that is what I was told years ago. Those tubes are not very big so yes, the flowers would not have lived long and had to be changed. They must wire those tulips as well. Thanks again.

  7. KellyB Says:

    Thank you Rick. Now that you say that, I think that is what I was told years ago. Those tubes are not very big so yes, the flowers would not have lived long and had to be changed. They must wire those tulips as well. Thanks again.

  8. caroleteller@aol.com Says:

    Dear Esther,It was wonderful hearing you at the Salmagundi the other day.  I mentioned an interesting building, it’s now the Rauschenberg Foundation, but it has a long history that I thought would interest you.  It’s complicated as written in the Daytonian.  Please see what he wrote. It’s 381 Lafayette St.  There is  the religious history and the orphange (where the parking lot is in my photos) and the piece of the church that is still there as you can see in the photos (that Rauschenberg used).   I took the photos over many years as you can see the change in the signage in the photos at the bottom of this email.I hope you find this little corner of New York as fascinating as I did. Many thanks for the many discoveries you make—love it !Thanks,Carole Teller

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks for coming to the Salmagundi Club, Carole, and thanks for the heads-up about this building. I will check it out in person this weekend!

  9. thesupremacyg Says:

    Hey…love the history there

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