Tragedy as Metropolitan Museum Curator Walter Liedtke Killed in Metro-North Train Crash

It appears he was one of the victims in the first car.

Walter Liedtke.
Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the investigation of the Metro-North train crash Tuesday evening that killed six people, the deadliest in the history of the railroad, it has been discovered that Walter Liedtke, a curator in European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was among those killed in the accident.

In an email to the museum staff, director Thomas P. Campbell wrote:

It is with profound sadness that we communicate the news that one of our finest colleagues, Walter Liedtke, Curator in European Paintings, was involved in the Metro North train crash that occurred yesterday evening.  We do not have official confirmation yet, but it appears as though he was among the victims in the first car.  We are all shocked by this news and have his entire family, particularly his wife Nancy, and in our thoughts.

Liedtke, who was 69, was a scholar on Vermeer and the Delft school. In the 35 years that he had been with the Metropolitan, the museum’s roughly 228 Dutch paintings and 100 Flemish paintings (from the 17th to 19th centuries) had been under his care.

Raised in New Jersey, Liedtke lived in Bedford Hills with his wife Nancy, a math teacher, who survives him. He received his B.A. from Rutgers University, earned a master’s degree in art history from Brown University, and a Ph.D. at the Courtauld Institute in London. At the Met, he had organized a number of blockbuster exhibitions including “Vermeer and the Delft School” (2001), and “The Age of Rembrandt” (2007), a survey of 17th century Dutch paintings drawn from the museum’s collection that saw an astounding 500,000 visitors come through the Met’s door.

Liedtke had also written many scholarly essays along with a half-dozen books, including an exhaustive thousand-page catalogue of the Met’s Dutch pictures, which was published in 2007.

On the website Codart, Liedtke wrote, “When asked what my favorite painting in the Met might be, I sometimes explain that historians don’t think that way and then answer frankly that it depends on my frame of mind. The two main alternatives are Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer and Vermeer’s Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.”

A Heartwarming Show of Solidarity

In 2013, Liedtke gave a memorably heartwarming show of solidarity with the Detroit Institute of Arts when he stood up and spoke from his seat in the audience at an IFAR panel, the subject of which was the potential effect of the Detroit municipal bankruptcy on the DIA’s collection. “The important thing to say,” said Liedtke, “is that institutions like yours, like my museum—the curators in my department would all resign if the Metropolitan Museum placed a single bid for any one of your objects, even in another department. I know that’s true.”

In a personal aside, in a webisode about Vermeer on the Metropolitan Museum’s website (see Remembering Walter Liedtke, Metropolitan Museum Curator Killed in Metro-North Train Crash), Liedtke said, “I think there is something Dutch about the way I live. To go home every day from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the countryside is a really nice contrast…. At the essential level, what’s the most Dutch about it is this constant return to immediate experience.”



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