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The colorful, connected life of Thomas Hoving

By Laurie Bennett

June 23, 2010 at 6:19am

Earlier this week, we mentioned Thomas P.F. Hoving’s criticism of paparazzo Ron Galella.

The ever quotable Hoving deserves a Muckety map of his own.

Hoving died in December, after multiple careers in which he showed off his exquisite taste and his talent for attracting media attention. He was commissioner of New York City Parks, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and editor of Connoisseur magazine.

Lovers of John McPhee’s prose will know him as the subject of the essay, “A Roomful of Hovings.” Longtime New Yorkers are apt to remember him fondly as the founder of pocket parks and the organizer of “Hoving’s Happenings,” events that drew huge crowds.

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Hoving was the privileged son of Walter Hoving, chairman of Tiffany’s and president of Bonwit Teller. After divorcing his first wife, Tom’s mother, Walter Hoving married Pauline van der Voort Hoving, widow of Standard Oil heir Henry Rogers II.

As a child growing up on New York’s Upper East Side, Tom Hoving frequented the Met, favoring the Egyptian wing. After a rocky education that encompassed four prep schools, Hoving turned to the study of art. He earned a master’s at Princeton and was hired by former Met director James J. Rorimer.

Hoving left the museum to run New York parks under Mayor John Lindsay. After Rorimer’s death in 1966, he became the Met’s youngest director, at just 35.

His tenure was colorful and controversial.

Benefactors and board members were unsettled by his style. People magazine wrote in 1975 that he was known as “The Clown Prince of Fun City” and “The Man with the Edifice Complex.” Some said his middle initials stood for “Publicity Forever.”

(They actually stood for Pearsall Field. “Among upper class WASP families multiple names were gospel,” Hoving would write.)

Under his leadership, the Met added new Islamic art galleries, built a glass-enclosed addition housing the Temple of Dendur, and negotiated the enormously successful King Tut show.

The New York Times would write in his obituary that his tenure at the museum, from 1967 to 1977, “fundamentally transformed the institution and helped usher in the era of the museum blockbuster show.”

Hoving later edited Connoisseur and wrote several successful books.

“Lots of people don’t like me, saying that I destroyed the Metropolitan, that I’m a liar, a hack, an opportunist, that I inflate my numerous accomplishments and that I am essentially an egotistical asshole,” he wrote in his memoirs, published in serial form last year by Artnet.

“But people who cherish facts and the truth, the ones who matter in this world, do like me or at least respect me.”

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3 Comments

  • #1.   John Hoving 06.23.2010

    Thanks for posting this. We miss him!

  • #2.   Kelly Jansenn 07.03.2010

    I do cherish the facts and truth and they are in his own words that he truly was an egotistical asshole.

    Condolences to MR J Hoving on his loss.

    Kelly Jansenn

  • #3.   Tom Flanigan 11.21.2010

    As a longtime Pawling friend of Tom Hoving, I find the statement by Jansenn abhorrent, detestible and totally without foundation. Obviously, Jansenn didn’t know Tom Hoving. I knew him well and he was a thoughtful, brilliant and great man….and a cherished friend. He was the man who spent an enormous amount of his time teaching a young boy to fly….a boy who would never have realized his dream but for Tom Hoving. He was the man who spent much time with my young daughter as she listened spellbound to his tales of Tutankammen and other Egyptian luminaries. He was the man who flew my son to Vermont with him to meet Andrew Wyeth. He was also the man who always had time to spend with a friend, offering his insights and advice when asked. Always ebullient, always fun, always willing to go a mile for a friend. This was Tom Hoving. I miss him greatly.

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