Walter Liedtke, curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum (photo courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Walter Liedtke, curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum (photo by Patrice Mattia, courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Walter Liedtke, a curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was one of six people killed in the Metro-North train crash last night in Valhalla, New York. He was 69.

“Walter was one of the preeminent scholars of Dutch and Flemish painting, whose contribution to the field lives on in a range of scholarly and popular publications,” the Met’s CEO and director, Thomas P. Campbell, wrote in an Instagram post.

This afternoon the museum released the following statement:

We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss. Walter Liedtke was a brilliant, respected curator and scholar of Dutch and Flemish paintings who was part of the Met family for 35 years. He organized dozens of major exhibitions that brought the works of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and many other great artists to millions of our visitors. He will long be remembered for his vast knowledge, his wit, and a passion for art that inspired all who came in contact with him.

Liedtke had been a curator at the Met since 1980, specializing in Dutch and Flemish paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. He published catalogues of the museum’s permanent collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings, and curated several major exhibitions devoted to Rembrandt and Vermeer.

In spite of his curatorial achievements, Liedtke had initially set out to be an academic. After receiving his BA from Rutgers University, an MA from Brown University, and his PhD from the Courtauld Institute, he took a teaching job at Ohio State University. Four years later, in 1979, he received an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship from the Met and was subsequently offered a job by the head of the European painting department, John Pope-Hennessy.

“As a curator, what I like most about the Met is that there are about 105 of us in 17 departments, in addition to numerous research assistants, conservators and scientists (in five conservation departments), educators, librarians, editors, and many other specialists,” Liedtke told Codart in a 2009 interview. “As a consequence, the curator is able to focus on his or her areas of expertise.”

Liedtke’s passion for his field and facility for conveying his knowledge accessibly and engagingly are visible in a 2013 episode of the Met’s online video series 82nd & Fifth.

YouTube video

Liedtke lived in Westchester County with his wife, Nancy.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

8 replies on “Metropolitan Museum Curator Walter Liedtke Killed in Train Crash”

  1. A truly terrible loss – and thank you for writing this fine tribute. You chose the right painting,Rembrandt’s Aristotle, to allow us to hear his voice. It was one of his all-time favorites. I recall talking about it with him at the museum after I read a very insightful essay he had written on its meanings – can we know, and how do we know the world? And does that knowledge help us live better? He will be missed tremendously.

  2. Walter was a very warm, brilliant, distinguished and intellectually curious scholar. He exhibited the highest of standards in his work and was always generous with his time and knowledge, helping me in my own art scholarship in numerous ways for the 15 or so years I’ve had the pleasure to know him. My condolences to his family, his fellow curators and conservators at the Met in this sad time of loss.

  3. A great patron of my work and a very close friend. Someone I will respect forever. I will miss him terribly.

  4. Thanks so much for this well-stated tribute. Walter was a kind and generous art historian, especially to young scholars. After meeting him in 2007, he was always very encouraging of me, even though we specialized in different sub-disciplines. I invited him to speak to our Art History department at Pratt Institute when his Dutch Paintings show was up at and his herculean two-volume catalogue of the collection was published. He arrived perfectly manicured, in a floor-length, faux fur coat. (Afterwards, we attended the holiday party at the college president’s neo-Georgian mansion, where he fit right in.) Even in 2007, he insisted on using old-fashioned slides for his lecture and brought his own slide carousels. At one point between two Rembrandts, the ancient Kodak projector became stuck. Walter, seemingly accustomed to this, proceeded to back up to the previous slide, unclogging the jam, while eloquently uttering my all-time favorite one-liner: “As with most things in life, we must take two steps back before we can proceed.”

  5. Sad news. He was my first Art History professor as a Freshman at Ohio State in 1976. Although it was an introductory course Professor Leitdke made a lasting impression on me as a lecturer and art historian.

  6. Mr. Liedtke and his exhaustive expertise will be sorely missed by the staff at
    John Bluebottle Fine Art. R.I.P.

  7. I run an independent art gallery in Brooklyn…
    One of our clients thought that he had a painting that may have been within the expertise of Mr. Liedtke’s department at the Met. I decided to write, assuming that if my question could be answered, I would be contacted by an assistant.

    I was quite amazed that Mr. Liedtke quickly answered personally, and kindly…giving substantial background so that I was able to give our client a very solid notion as to his painting.

    It was such a kind gesture, considering his position…and also that I was a total stranger.

    Reading about the remarkable stand he took on behalf of the Detroit institute of Arts…a profound gesture on behalf of a miraculous institution, Mr. Liedtke was surely one of the good guys.

    I feel so bereft…His loss is beyond tragic.

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