A Noble Tradition: American Paintings from the National Arts Club

by Carol Lowrey




1 Charles de Kay to John S. James, [1898], Records of The National Arts Club, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., roll 4241, frame 12. The club's papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1987. See Catherine Stover, Inventory of the Records of The National Arts Club, 1898-1960 (Washington, D.C.: Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1990).

2 [Charles de Kay], "As to the National Art [sic] Club," [1898], p. [2], roll 4237, N.A.C. Records, AM.

3 [De Kay], "As to the National Art Club," p. [2].

4 De Kay to James.

5 Other charter members included collectors such as Mrs. J. Montgomery Sears of Boston and Sir William Van Horne of Montreal; philanthropist Spencer Trask; author Ida M. Tarbell; Richard Watson Gilder, the editor of Scribner's; and artists J. Carroll Beckwith, Daniel Chester French and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

6 For further reading on the neighborhood, see Carole Klein's Gramercy Park: An American Bloomsbury (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1987).

7 After Tilden's death in 1886 the mansion was sold and eventually used as a rooming house.

8 The first exhibition held in the new facility, which was opened to members in the fall of 1906, was American Paintings from the Collection of Mr. William T. Evans (8-18 Nov. 1906). The clubhouse was designated a New York City Landmark in 1962 and a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

9 The other artist life members elected in 1910 were Frank Bicknell, Homer Boss, Daniel Putnam Brinley, Bolton Coit Brown, Wilhelm Funk, Birge Harrison, F. Luis Mora, Robert Nisbet, George Gardner Symons, Alexander Van Laer, Frederick Waugh, Frederick Ballard Williams and Cullen Yates as well as the British Impressionist Sir Alfred East and Louis Mark, a Hungarian-born portraitist. Although sculptors such as Robert Ingersoll Aitken, Malvina Hoffman and Anna Hyatt Huntington were brought into the program, the artist life membership was consistently dominated by painters.

10 L [eila] M [echlin], "William Thomas Evans," Dictionary of American Biography 3 (1959): 215. For further information on Evans, see John M. Gilchrist, "American Paintings in the Collection of William T. Evans, 1896-1913," M.A. thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, 1969, and William H. Truettner, ''William T. Evans, Collector of American Paintings," American Art Journal 3 (Fall 1971): 50-79.

11 "William T. Evans," National Arts Club Bulletin 4 (July 1909): 8.

12 For an annotated listing of NAC exhibitions from 1899 until 1960, see Stover's Inventory, pp. 33-47. J. Nilson Laurvik's Exhibition: Contemporary Art, held at the club from 5 February to 7 March 1914, was unusual in that it featured advanced modernist work, with examples by artists such as Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove and John Marin (none of whom were members of the club). Anticipating criticism for the exhibition, Laurvik took care to note that the selection was his, not that of Evans and the other members of the Art Committee, and that he alone should be blamed for "whatever may be amiss artistically or otherwise." See his preface in Exhibition: Contemporary Art (New York: National Arts Club, 1914), p. [2].

13 In October 1919, the committee adopted a new ruling which stated that artists had to be nominated by at least seven artist life members. See Minutes of the Art Committee, 7 October 1919, N.A.C. Records, AAA, roll 4240, fr. [500?]. The artist life membership program continued to operate throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. During the Depression, the club, like other such institutions, experienced financial difficulties due to declining membership. The program was temporarily suspended in 1934 but reopened in 1939, during which time its scope was broadened to include writers, actors and musicians such as Cecil B. de Mille and Helen Hayes. Thereafter, artist life memberships were given out on a sporadic basis until 1950 when the program was again discontinued.

14 William Howe Downes, The Closson Memorial Exhibition (Boston: Robert C. Vose Galleries, 1927), p. [3].

15 Designed by Stephen D. Hatch to house the Army's New York headquarters, the structure was given a new, reflective glass skin and an eleven-story addition during the mid -1980s. The building, known today as 3 New York Plaza, currently houses a branch of the New York Health and Racquet Club. Christopher Gray of the Office for Metropolitan History in New York kindly identified the U.S. Army Building for me.


About the Author

Carol Lowrey, at the time of writing of this essay was the Curator of the National Arts Club Permanent Collection.


Resource Library editor's note:

The above essay was reprinted, without accompanying illustrations, in Resource Library on February 8, 2006 with the permission of The Florence Griswold Museum. This text is included in an illustrated catalogue titled A Noble Tradition: American Paintings from the National Arts Club, published in 1995 by The Florence Griswold Museum to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at the Museum July 7 through September 3, 1995.

If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact The Florence Griswold Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Tammi Flynn of The Florence Griswold Museum for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

This essay was also previously published in American Art Review, Volume VII, Number 3, June-July, 1995.

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