The north wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a vast, airy enclosure featuring a banked wall of glass and the Temple of Dendur, a sandstone monument that was constructed beside the Nile two millennia ago and transported to the Met, brick by brick, as a gift from the Egyptian government.
The space, which opened in 1978 and is known as the Sackler Wing, is also itself a monument, to one of America’s great philanthropic dynasties. The Brooklyn-born brothers Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler, all physicians, donated lavishly during their lifetimes to an astounding range of institutions, many of which today bear the family name: the Sackler Gallery, in Washington; the Sackler Museum, at Harvard; the Sackler Center for Arts Education, at the Guggenheim; the Sackler Wing at the Louvre; and Sackler institutes and facilities at Columbia, Oxford, and a dozen other universities.
The Sacklers have endowed professorships and underwritten medical research. The art scholar Thomas Lawton once likened the eldest brother, Arthur, to “a modern Medici.” Before Arthur’s death, in 1987, he advised his children, “Leave the world a better place than when you entered it.”
Mortimer died in 2010, and Raymond died earlier this year. The brothers bequeathed to their heirs a laudable tradition of benevolence, and an immense fortune with which to indulge it. Arthur’s daughter Elizabeth is on the board of the Brooklyn Museum, where she endowed the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Raymond’s sons, Richard and Jonathan, established a professorship at Yale Cancer Center. “My father raised Jon and me to believe that philanthropy is an important part of how we should fill our lives,” Richard has said. Marissa Sackler, the thirty-six-year-old daughter of Mortimer and his third wife, Theresa Rowling, founded Beespace, a nonprofit “incubator” that supports organizations like the Malala Fund. Sackler recently told W that she finds the word “philanthropy” old-fashioned. She considers herself a “social entrepreneur.”