Alfred Eisenstaedt

A seated female student studies statues in a sculpture gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, January 1939. Alfred Eisenstaedt, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

LIFE.com presents a selection of evocative (and sometimes playful) images that offer a virtual tour, of sorts, through one of the world’s great museums, taken at a time in the Met’s history when one could, on a good day, walk through the collections and not be confronted with jostling crowds.