Thematic Essays

The two  longer thematic essays are meant to help tell the story of American art in 19th century New York City. Claudine Chartouni wrote her essay on the Rise of American Artists contributing to the American Art Scene. The following section contains a detailed description of Claudine’s vision for this additional section:

“I was interested in taking a deeper dive into the significance of Whistler within the American context and abroad. In my essay I argue that the rise of American artists to a position of prominence abroad began the process of legitimizing the NYC art scene. Taking Whistler as a case study, this thematic essay walks through how Whistler’s use of the press and eccentric personality turned him into a celebrity artist, raising the value of his work in Europe. As American collectors kept their ears close to the ground in Europe, they knew about the American artist’s success abroad and thus his shows in the states would be special affairs for collectors who did not have access to many of the top tier artists in the US. As he did the greatest number of shows in New York City, shows by the living American artists becoming increasingly famous laid the groundwork for the NYC art scene by legitimizing “American Artists,” bringing overall more prestige to the group. This essay will tie in Whistler’s relationship with Hermann Wunderlich, noting NYC’s location as a port city with a large population of skilled immigrants and wealthy collectors. This essay perhaps seems to suggest that Whistler was the reason why American art began to become notable and respectable, but its goal is merely to show how American art was picking up steam, fueling American galleries and moving the United States more into the mainstream and bringing prominence to artists coming from a part of the world with fewer of the prestigious academies essential to legitimizing art. The essay cites primary sources like letters between Whistler and colleagues, exhibition catalogues, and periodicals. Secondary sources include a plethora of academic articles, the Whistler website, etc.”

Mackenzie Philbrick writes on the role of the National Academy of Design and the periodicals that reviewed and covered artistic events to study the ways in which the discourse of art criticism expanded alongside American Art to legitimize it in New York City throughout the 19thcentury. The investigation connects to the map—which will chart the movement of cultural institutions alongside galleries—and the project as a whole by aiding our understanding of the role of the National Academy in the art world. There is a narrative that galleries have followed these institutions, shifting from Broadway to East village later on in the century, and the map will seek to verify this. The essay uses this data as the starting point to reconcile the role of the National Academy of Design in crafting a distinctly American art, at a time when America is learning from Europe and its rich cultural and artistic legacy. The Academy not only exhibited American art in the 19thcentury—at the beginning of which dealers could not make enough money to run a successful business by specializing in its sale—but it as an institution also took on the broader task of educating the American public on art’s significance and value, especially in its preliminary years. Given the lack of artistic critics and discourse on American art at the beginning of the century and even later on, American artists have had to take on the task of defining what art should be. For example, Morse reviewed his own work under someone else’s name in attempts to legitimize it, and Whistler sought to educate his audience, which allowed him to defend his artistic choices that the press often critiqued. The National Academy was founded by artists like the American landscape painter Thomas Cole in 1826, and it served as a concrete way to legitimize the profession and identity of the American artist particularly.

Nineteenth century American art saw the rise and fall of the first cohesive aesthetic movement in America, the Hudson River School, which was often interpreted as provincial. The nationalist association with the Academy ultimately ended up limiting its legitimacy later on in the 1880s, a demise which paralleled that of the Hudson River School, as it came under siege by more progressive artists. Many critiqued the academy for becoming a mere salesroom with low entry requirements, and it was considered a daunting task as a spectator to attempt to pick out the handful of good paintings in the sea of subpar ones. This method of viewing stood in stark contrast to the galleries that curated material to specific audiences. Eventually, this ecosystem set up a dichotomy which put the gallery and academy in opposition, and in the 1880s as academy shows became less popular and outdated, new spaces to view art, like clubs and galleries became increasingly popular. These spaces were documented and advertised yearly by Charles Kurtz, a key player in the art scene at the time, at the end of each National Academy notes pamphlet as they grew yearly through the 1880s. This essay will demonstrate that despite the fact that the Academy played a pivotal role in the creation and legitimization of American art in New York, by the 1880s, the very discourse that it had created called it to evolve into a more progressive space, one that would allow America to keep up with the European avant-garde. The investigation will utilize primary sources from The New York Times, The New York Tribune, Appleton’s Journal, Art Union, The Crayon, and other periodicals, along with the National Academy archives. Secondary sources will help paint a picture of the aesthetic movements of the time and the Academy’s relationship to them.