National Academy Museum
and School of Fine Arts
Major Exhibition on New York's Famed Tenth Street Studio Building--
A Fascinating Chapter in the Developing National Art Scene
August 21 - November 16, 1997
The Tenth Street Building, 1858
A fascinating and critical chapter in the life of American art is that which unfolded at 51 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, in a legendary structure known as the Tenth Street Studio Building. At the epicenter of the developing national art scene in the nineteenth century, this innovative structure was for several decades the headquarters of "who was who" in the American art world, providing the stimulus and shelter to such influential artists as Albert Bierstadt, NA; William Merritt Chase, NA; Frederic Church, NA; and Winslow Homer, NA.
This fall, a major exhibition at The National Academy Museum explores the role this building (opened in 1858 and demolished in 1956) and its occupants played in the American cultural scene and, in particular, new marketing strategies developed for presenting the visual arts to the widening audiences. On view from August 21 through November 16, The Tenth Street Studio Building: Artist Entrepreneurs from the Hudson River School to the American Impressionists, features 50 Paintings, and 1000 photographs, prints, manuscripts, and memorabilia. The presentation will include a setting reminiscent of one of the building's most famous studios, the elaborate one occupied by William Merritt Chase. Eli Wilner & Company will install a gallery of period frames focusing on their use as marketing tools as well. The exhibition was originally curated for The Parrish Art Museum in Southhampton, New York, by Dr. Annette Blaugrund, The National Academy's new Director. Dr. Blaugrund explained that since most building tenants were active members of the National Academy of Design (now called The National Academy) this museum is a most appropriate venue for exhibition.
In the Studio Corner, William Merritt Chase, 1885
The building was the first modern multistoried structure entirely devoted to the commercial and functional needs of artists. With no antecedents in America or Europe, it became an architectural prototype for the profession. Artists form across the country congregated within its walls to work, talk, teach, exhibit, and sell their creations. Wealthy patrons, influential critics, and the inquisitive public attended well-publicized receptions, and the activities in the building helped transform Greenwich Village into a hub for the visual arts.
Even though New York had become the art center of the nation by the mid-nineteenth century, there were few good artists' studios or sufficient exhibition and sales outlets. Artists often worked in cold, ill-lighted adapted-spaces. It was, therefore, quite progressive in 1857 for James Boorman Johnston (1822-1887) and his architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), the first Beaux-Arts trained architect in the United States, to develop this experimental space to service the needs or artists. Hunt later designed the initial building for The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The innovative structure on Tenth Street, which consisted of three floors with twenty-five studios, surrounding a communal exhibition space, facilitated changes in the manner art was marketed. It was in this building that artists such as Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt staged special dramatic viewings of individual works in isolation, a popular leisure-time activity. In 1859, Church hired an agent to mange the promotion, exhibition, and engraved reproductions of his colossal work The Heart of the Andes. The painting was on display in the Tenth Street gallery before it toured Europe and the United States. It was set off in black crepe and placed in a specially designed frame that heightened the viewer's illusion of a landscape seen through a window. Newspapers advertised and promoted this early blockbuster which attracted twelve thousand people, each of whom paid twenty-five cents admission; police were called in to handle the crowds.
Worthington Whittredge in Hi sTenth Street Studio, Emanuel Leutze, 1865
A variety of artists' receptions at the studio building took place almost every year during the 1860s. A major draw was the addition of music, flowers, refreshments, and the presence of the artists themselves. By the 1880s , with many collectors buying European art, these amenities alone were not enough to lure customers to the studio. Artist-tenants also marketed their work at art organizations, fairs, clubs, and auctions; they sought advertising, solicited reviews and articles, produced catalogues, and brochures, and paid special attention to the framing of their works. Most importantly, their shift to dealers and galleries during the post-Civil War era marks the change in marketing trends.
Cayambe, Frederic Edwin Church, 1858
Over time, the studios evolved from utilitarian work spaces to rooms crammed with lavish displays of props, paintings, prints, and exotic objects representing the artists' refined taste. William Merritt Chase, for example, maximized the promotional properties of the studio. Clad in a red fez, and sometimes a flowing cape, accompanied by his Russian wolfhounds, Chase established himself as a knowledgeable connoisseur, a voracious collector, and an artist of consequence. His studio was a reflection of his cosmopolitan taste, a repository for a variety of objects, including paintings, prints, books, glass, jewelry, samovars, tapestries, shoes, and musical instruments; some of these served as props, others as aesthetic ambiance. Case was preoccupied with his studio as a subject in the 1880s, his early years at the Tenth Street studio building. He painted it from many perspectives, focusing on the studio as an aesthetic domain in which to explore the theme of beauty. The exhibition will feature several works by Chase, a dominant figure in the life of the Tenth Street studio building.
William Merritt Chase Inner Studio, C.C. Cox, 1885
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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