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Guide to the American Art-Union Print Collection
1840-1851
  PR 159

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on October 31, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: American Art-Union Print Collection
Dates [inclusive]: 1840-1851
Abstract: Collection of prints issued by the American Art-Union, a subscription-based art organization.
Quantity: 1.2 Linear feet (760 prints)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Materials
Call Phrase: PR 159

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Historical Note

The American Art-Union was first known as the Apollo Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in the United States. The Apollo Association was founded by James Herring, a businessman who was concerned that American artists had no place to show or sell their paintings other than their own studios. He opened the Apollo Gallery in New York City in 1838 to remedy this situation, and in January of 1839 came up with the idea of a subscription organization to better distribute artists' works to the interested public. The Apollo Association was initially successful, with 814 members subscribing in its first year. When sufficient funds were not forthcoming to compensate Herring for his gallery space and labor, he was forced to withdraw his gallery as an exhibition space for the Association. After the break with Herring, the Apollo Association renamed itself the American Art-Union (AAU) in 1840 (a change which became official in 1844) and tried to find new gallery space to show artworks the Union purchased.

The subscription-based AAU charged five dollars per year to its members, which entitled each to an annual premium of one engraving published by the Union after a contemporary work of American art in their collection. One of the goals of the organization was to foster an American school of painting, both by promoting artists and developing an appreciative audience. Most of the artwork purchased and engraved for distribution by the AAU was historical in subject, as was the fashion of the day. Toward the end of the 1840s, however, the AAU approached Thomas Cole, who specialized in landscape and allegorical subjects, to paint a four-part series based on the theme of the "Voyage of Life." The AAU planned to issue engravings after the four paintings to subscribing members but never did. "Youth" alone was issued as a member print; the other three appeared as frontispieces in the Bulletin of the American Art-Union for October 1850 ("Childhood") and November 1850 ("Manhood" and "Old Age").

The AAU flourished as the demand for its product grew larger with each passing year. By 1849 the Art-Union boasted 18,960 members, and did well by them. In 1844 and 1847 members received both an annual and a second print; in 1844 they also received an illustrated book, Harvey's American Landscape Scenery. In 1848 the AAU began publishing its illustrated monthly art journal. In 1848 and 1849 books with Felix O.C. Darley illustrations of Washington Irving stories were issued to every member in addition to their print. In 1850 and 1851 members received five small prints in addition to the customary large print.

In addition to issuing prints, the Art-Union purchased other paintings and artworks from artists with the remainder of the funds collected, which were distributed among the members by means of an annual lottery. Each member was awarded one chance in the lottery, in which original paintings by popular artists such as William Sidney Mount and Thomas Cole were among the prizes.

Its popularity created a mammoth organization that became difficult to administer. Out-of-town members also rose to more than two thirds the total number, forcing the AAU to spend more money on postage than anticipated. The critical blow to the AAU, however, came in 1852 when the New York State Supreme Court found the yearly lottery of artworks to be illegal. The AAU was forced to dissolve, and in 1852 held an auction to sell off the paintings and sculptures in their collection. In 1863, those that went unsold, as well as the records of the organization, were given to the New-York Historical Society, many members of which had also been AAU subscribers.

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Scope and Content Note

The American Art-Union Print Collection spans the period from 1840 to 1851 and contains prints by American artists issued by the Art-Union to its members. The collection also contains a few prints that were used as frontispieces in the Bulletin of the American Art-Union. The collection is arranged in three series: Membership Prints; Other Prints; and Duplicate Membership Prints.

The prints are housed by size. However, the listing here is by series and thereunder in the order in which the prints were issued, with inventory and housing information noted under each title. Generally, at least three copies of each print can be found in Series I. Several hundred duplicate prints exist for several of the later, and smaller, membership prints; these duplicates can be found in Series III.

Most prints have the artists' signature engraved in the plate. Prints in this collection were made from paintings by Thomas Cole, William S. Mount, Asher B. Durand, and others. Engravers include James Smillie, Felix O.C. Darley, and Alfred Jones.

Series I. Membership Prints contains copies of prints that were issued by the American Art-Union each year from 1840 to 1851. In addition to prints, members also received several books illustrated by etchings. Two of these, with text by Washington Irving, are found here. This series holds copies of all membership prints issued by the AAU, except for three: "Farmer's Nooning" (1843), "A Sibyl" (1847) and "Dover Plains" (1850). Two books issued to members, "Harvey's American Landscape Scenery" (1844), and "Outlines & Sketches by Washington Allston" (1850), are also lacking. This series also includes several proofs for Thomas Cole's "Voyage of Life—Youth" (1849).

Series II. Other Prints holds five prints that were issued for special fund raising drives, given to honorary secretaries of the organization, or used as frontispieces for the Bulletin of the American Art-Union.

Series III. Duplicate Prints contains 525 duplicates of the small folio prints issued in 1851. These came to the New-York Historical Society with the rest of the Art-Union's archive in 1863. The series includes 321 copies of "Marion Crossing the Peedee," 155 copies of "Mount Washington," 32 copies of "American Harvesting," and 17 copies of "Old '76 and Young '48."

Arrangement

The collection is divided into three series.

  1. Series I. Membership Prints
  2. Series II. Other Prints
  3. Series III. Duplicate Membership Prints

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Cole, Thomas, 1801-1848
  • Darley, Felix Octavia Carr, 1822-1888
  • Durand, Asher Brown, 1792-1886
  • Irving, Washington, 1783-1859, Legend of Sleepy Hollow -- Illustrations
  • Irving, Washington, 1783-1859, Rip Van Winkle – Illustrations
  • Jones, Alfred, 1819-1900
  • Mount, William Sidney, 1807-1868
  • Smillie, James, 1807-1885

Document Type

  • Engravings
  • Etchings
  • Lithographs
  • Mezzotints
  • Prints
  • Proofs (derivative objects)

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Administrative Information

Provenance

Most of the prints were donated with the AAU's archive in 1863. Additional gifts and purchases date from 1927 to 1953.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as American Art-Union Print Collection, PR 159, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society Manuscript Department holds the American Art-Union records.

 

General note

Sources:

  1. Mann, Maybelle. The American Art-Union. Jupiter, Fl.: ALM Associates, 1987.
  2. Cowdrey, Mary Bartlett. American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art-Union. New York: New-York Historical Society, 1953.

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Container List

Series I: Membership Prints

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: Folder : "Gen. Marion in His Swamp Encampment Inviting a British Officer to Dinner,"after John Blake White, engraved by John Sartain, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1840
Box: Folder : "The Artist's Dream," after George H. Comegys, engraved by John Sartain

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1841
Box: Folder : "Caius Marius on the Ruins of Carthage," after John Vanderlyn, engraved by Stephen Alonso Schoff

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1842
Box: Folder : "Sparking," after Francis W. Edmonds, engraved by Alfred Jones, printed by J. M. Emerson & Co.

General note

One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1844
Box: Folder : "Escape of Captain Wharton," drawn by Thomas F. Hoppin ,etched by John Francis E. Prudhomme, printed by C. Thomas

General note

One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1844
Box: Folder : "The Capture of Major Andre," after Asher B. Durand, engraved by Alfred Jones, landscape engraved by James Smillie and Robert Hinshelwood, printed by W. E. Smith

General note

Four copies in Horizontal Folder 1

1845
Box: Folder : "Sir Walter Raleigh, Parting with his Wife," after Emmanuel Leutze, engraved by Thomas Doney, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1846
Box: Folder : "The Jolly Flatboat Men," after George Caleb Bingham, engraved by Thomas Doney, printed by Powell & Co.

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1847
Box: Folder : "The Signing of the Death Warrant of Lady Jane Grey," after Daniel Huntington,engraved by Charles Burt, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1848
Box: Folder : Illustrations of Rip Van Winkle, 11 pp. text by Washington Irving with 6 leaves etched by Felix O.C. Darley, lithoprinted by Sarony & Major

General note

One copy in Box 1

1848
Box: Folder : "The Voyage of Life—Youth," after Thomas Cole, engraved by James Smillie

General note

Two copies in Horizontal Folder 1
Nine copies, including proofs and prints before letters, in Oversize Folder 1.

1849
Box: Folder : Illustrations of Sleepy Hollow, 16 pp. text by Washington Irving with 6 leaves etched by Felix O.C. Darley, lithoprinted by Sarony & Major

General note

Two copies in Box 1

1849
Box: Folder : "Anne Page, Slender and Shallow. A Scene from the Merry Wives of Windsor," after Charles R. Leslie, engraved by Charles Burt, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1850
Box: Folder : "The Card Players," after Richard Caton Woodville, engraved by Charles Burt, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Two copies in Box 1
One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1850
Box: Folder : "Dream of Arcadia," after Thomas Cole, engraved by James Smillie, printed by W. E. Smith

General note

Three copies in Box 1

1850
Box: Folder : "The Image Breaker," after Emmanuel Leutze, engraved by Alfred Jones, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Three copies in Box 1

1850
Box: Folder : "The New Scholar," after Francis W. Edmonds, engraved by Alfred Jones

General note

Two copies in Box 1

1850
Box: Folder : "Mexican News," after R. C. Woodville, engraved by Alfred Jones

General note

One copy in Oversize Folder 1

1851
Box: Folder : "American Harvesting," after Jasper F. Cropsey, engraved by James Smillie, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Three copies in Box 1
See also: Series III

1851
Box: Folder : "Bargaining for a Horse," after William S. Mount, engraved by Charles Burt

General note

Five copies in Box 1

1851
Box: Folder : "Marion Crossing the Pedee," after William Ranney, engraved by Charles Burt, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Three copies in Box 1
See also: Series III

1851
Box: Folder : "Mount Washington from the Valley of Conway," after John F. Kensett,engraved by James Smillie, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Three copies in Box 1
See also: Series III

1851
Box: Folder : "Old '76 and Young '48," after Richard C. Woodville, engraved by J. I. Pease, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Four copies in Box 1
See also: Series III

1851

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Series II: Other Prints

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: Folder : "Distribution of the American Art-Union Prizes, at the Tabernacle-Broadway, New York; 24th Dec. 1847," drawn by Francis Davignon, engraved by Tompkins H. Matteson, lithographed by Sarony & Major

General note

One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1848
Box: Folder : "The Voyage of Life—Childhood," after Thomas Cole, drawn by M. Ensing Muller, etched by R. Hinshelwood

General note

One copy in Box 1
One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

[1849]
Box: Folder : "The Voyage of Life—Manhood," after Thomas Cole, drawn by M. Ensing Muller, etched by R. Hinshelwood

General note

One copy in Box 1
One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

[1849]
Box: Folder : "The Voyage of Life—Old Age," after Thomas Cole, drawn by M. Ensing Muller, etched by R. Hinshelwood

General note

One copy in Box 1

[1849]
Box: Folder : "The Battle at Bunker's Hill, Near Boston. June 17th, 1775," after John Trumbull, engraved by J. G. Muller, published in London by A. C. de Poggi.

General note

One copy in Horizontal Folder 1

1850

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Series III: Duplicate Membership Prints

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: Folder : "American Harvesting," after Jasper F. Cropsey, engraved by James Smillie, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Thirty-two copies in Box 1
See also: Series I

1851
Box: Folder : "Marion Crossing the Pedee," after William Ranney, engraved by Charles Burt, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One hundred fifty nine copies in Box 2
One hundred sixty two copies in Box 3
See also: Series I

1851
Box: Folder : "Mount Washington from the Valley of Conway," after John F. Kensett, engraved by James Smillie, printed by J. Dalton

General note

One hundred fifty five duplicates in Box 4
See also: Series I

1851
Box: Folder : "Old '76 and Young '48," after Richard C. Woodville, engraved by J. I. Pease, printed by J. Dalton

General note

Seventeen duplicates in Box 1
See also: Series I

1851

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