Woman painting while in a room full of women reading
Exhibition

New York Art Worlds, 1870–1890

Through July 21
Free with Museum admission

Introduction

After the American Civil War, a vibrant modern art world emerged in New York City, laying the groundwork for one of today’s global cultural capitals. This era of rapid socioeconomic transformation, known as the Gilded Age, was a foundational moment for an aspiring group of New Movement artists, who pursued aesthetic innovations and collaborated on production across a range of mediums. They strategically exhibited and marketed themselves and their works to ambitious patrons from the elite to the expanding middle class. Through their individual, social, and institutional affiliations, these artists functioned as tastemakers and organizers, creating an international cultural infrastructure.

Drawing largely from the American Wing’s collections, New York Art Worlds explores aspects of the lived experience of artists in the city during the 1870s and 1880s. The Union Square area, with its web of studios, schools, museums, clubs, and commercial establishments, created a nexus of creative and social activity that enriched urban life. This cosmopolitan environment—which constituted, in effect, multiple art worlds—drew people of diverse backgrounds and training opportunities, from those schooled in Europe to those who studied in local academies, including an emerging generation of professional women and artists of color.


Artistic Fellowship

By the late 1870s, younger, more progressive artists—many trained in Europe in the most up-to-date techniques—had established themselves in New York, promoting the city as a vital environment for their professional success. Moving beyond what they perceived as entrenched traditionalism, these artists pursued a broad range of subjects, prioritizing figure painting and scenes of everyday life. They valued subjectivity, experimentation, and expansive thinking about what constituted finished artworks. Their fresh creative force in painting, drawing, and sculpture became known as the New Movement.

This generational pivot was also reflected in the collaborative founding of alternative teaching and exhibition venues, namely the Art Students League in 1875 and the Society of American Artists in 1877. These organizations created social and economic opportunities for some outside the established National Academy of Design. In particular, they enabled women and artists of color to achieve enhanced professional stature.

The New Movement artists sought fellowship in communal living and working spaces—notably the salons hosted by Helena de Kay and Richard Watson Gilder at their home on East Fifteenth Street. They also engaged in intentional self-fashioning, forming alliances with like-minded cultural figures and exchanging works of art with each other as evidence of friendship and shared artistic values.

Selected Artworks

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Eleanor Hardy Bunker, Dennis Miller Bunker  American, Oil on canvas, American
Dennis Miller Bunker (1861–1890)
1890
J. Alden Weir, Olin Levi Warner  American, Bronze, American
Olin Levi Warner (American, West Suffield, Connecticut 1844–1896 New York)
Cast by Tiffany & Co. (1837–present)
1880, cast 1897–98
Francis Davis Millet, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1879
Charles F. McKim, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1878
The Studio, Winslow Homer  American, Oil on canvas, American
Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
1867
Charles F. McKim, Stanford White, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1878
Rodman de Kay Gilder, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1879, cast probably 1880
Art Students, Louis Lang  American, Oil on canvas, American
Louis Lang (American, Bad Waldsee, Germany 1814–1893 New York)
ca. 1871
Richard Watson Gilder, Helena de Kay Gilder, and Rodman de Kay Gilder, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Plaster, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
modeled 1879, cast ca. 1883–84
Right Hand of Abraham Lincoln, Leonard Wells Volk  American, Bronze, American
Leonard Wells Volk (1828–1895)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1860; cast 1886
Life Mask of Abraham Lincoln, Leonard Wells Volk  American, Bronze, American
Leonard Wells Volk (1828–1895)
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1860, cast 1886
William Henry II and Cornelius Vanderbilt III, Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
1882
Paint box with nude study, Helena de Kay, Oil on wood, American
Helena de Kay (1846–1916)
ca. 1871
Water Lilies, Helena de Kay, Oil on canvas, American
Helena de Kay (1846–1916)
ca. 1870–77

The Tile Club and Commercial Pursuits

In the years after the country’s centennial, professional artists across the United States explored new approaches to artmaking. Embracing the tenets of the American Aesthetic Movement—experimentation, collaboration, and a marriage of the beautiful and useful—these practitioners challenged traditional artistic hierarchies and the mythic image of the artist as solitary genius. The flourishing cooperative spirit that imbued New York’s art worlds led to the founding of numerous organizations, including the Tile Club (1877–87). Responding to the growing public taste for Aestheticism that encompassed the revival of the so-called minor arts, including watercolor and tile painting, members pursued market-driven artistic opportunities.

The all-White and male Tile Club approached Aesthetic production largely through camaraderie. While the association’s name derived from its initial activity—the decoration of 8-inch glazed tiles—weekly club meetings focused on artistic experimentation in a variety of media as well as discussions of market trends. Members also produced magazine articles and a lavish artists’ book documenting their playful innovations. “Tilers” featured in this section include Edwin Austin Abbey, William Merritt Chase, Winslow Homer, Francis Davis Millet, William O’Donovan, and Elihu Vedder. Artists excluded from such an organization due to their gender and race, such as Cecilia Beaux and Charles Ethan Porter, pursued decorative projects independently.

Selected Artworks

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A Cosey Corner, Frank Millet  American, Oil on canvas, American
Frank Millet (1846–1912)
1884
Winslow Homer, William Rudolph O'Donovan  American, Bronze, American
William Rudolph O'Donovan (1844–1920)
Cast by Roman Bronze Works
1876, cast 1923
Alice Gerson in Prospect Park, William Merritt Chase  American, Oil on panel, American
William Merritt Chase (American, Williamsburg, Indiana 1849–1916 New York)
1886
The Cup of Love, Elihu Vedder  American, Oil on wood, American
Elihu Vedder (American, New York 1836–1923 Rome)
1887
The Bruce Child, Cecilia Beaux  American, Enamel on porcelain, American
Cecilia Beaux (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1855–1942 Gloucester, Massachusetts)
1880
Shepherd and Shepherdess, Winslow Homer  American, Glazed earthenware, overglaze enamel decoration, American
Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
1878
Bouquet of Roses, Charles Ethan Porter  American, Enamel on porcelain, American
Charles Ethan Porter (1847–1923)
ca. 1880
A book of the Tile club, Tile Club
Multiple artists/makers
1886
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám : the astronomer-poet of Persia, Omar Khayyám  Iranian
Multiple artists/makers
1884
"The Harvesters," illustration to "The Leather Bottèl", Edwin Austin Abbey  American, Pen and ink on paper
Edwin Austin Abbey (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1852–1911 London)
1887
Christmas Card (First Prize Winner of Louis Prang's Christmas Card Competition, 1881), Elihu Vedder  American, Color lithograph with silk fringe and tassels
Multiple artists/makers
1881
Winslow Homer (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1836–1910 Prouts Neck, Maine)
ca. 1878

The Business of Art

Late nineteenth-century artists looked to New York as the center of the American art world, using the city’s reputation to burnish their own. Promotional strategies included developing bonds with sympathetic art critics, whose writings in newspapers and journals introduced artworks to national audiences.

The burgeoning art market was at the center of New York’s rapidly expanding commercial infrastructure. Artists exhibited and sold their work through influential venues to foster patronage and satisfy the cultural ambitions of an expanding clientele. A robust, professional network of galleries—some satellites of European ventures—linked buyers and sellers. Most New Movement painters and sculptors participated in exhibitions at both the established National Academy of Design and the avant-garde Society of American Artists.

Other organizations, including the American Watercolor Society, were more focused, legitimizing specific media and offering a more diverse group access to the market. While an older generation of American artists played a role in the founding of The Met in 1870, younger progressives were involved with the Museum as well, strategically weaving themselves into its institutional fabric through donations of artwork and participation in exhibitions.

Selected Artworks

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Auction Sale in Clinton Hall, New York, 1876, Ignacio de León y Escosura  Spanish, Oil on canvas
Ignacio de León y Escosura (Spanish, Oviedo 1834–1901 Toledo)
1876
The Bridge, Albert Pinkham Ryder  American, Oil on gilt leather, American
Albert Pinkham Ryder (American, New Bedford, Massachusetts 1847–1917 Elmhurst, New York)
ca. 1880
Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer (Mariana Griswold), Augustus Saint-Gaudens  American, Bronze, American
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)
Cast by Henry-Bonnard Bronze Company (ca. 1882–1926)
1888, cast 1890
Entrance Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when in Fourteenth Street, Frank Waller  American, Oil on wood, American
Frank Waller (American, New York 1842–1923 Morristown, New Jersey)
ca. 1881
The Artist's Wife and His Setter Dog, Thomas Eakins  American, Oil on canvas, American
Thomas Eakins (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1844–1916 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
ca. 1884–89
The Lady of Shalott stained glass window, Matthys Maris  Dutch, Stained glass, American or English
Multiple artists/makers
ca. 1890–1915
Book of American figure painters, Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer  American
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (American, New York 1851–1934 New York)
J. B. Lippincott Company (Philadelphia)
1886
A Month's Darning, Enoch Wood Perry  American, Watercolor, gouache, and gum arabic on off-white wove paper, American
Enoch Wood Perry (1831–1915)
1876
Homespun, Thomas Eakins  American, Watercolor on off-white wove paper, American
Thomas Eakins (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1844–1916 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
1881
Sunset on Mount Chocorua, New Hampshire, William Trost Richards  American, Watercolor, gouache, and graphite on gray-green wove paper, American
William Trost Richards (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1833–1905 Newport, Rhode Island)
1872
Still Life, Fidelia Bridges  American, Oil on canvas, American
Fidelia Bridges (American, Salem, Massachusetts 1834-1923 Canaan, Connecticut)
1870

Decorative Collaborations

The popular taste for artistic production and consumption underwent remarkable growth in the decade after the 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, the first major world’s fair in the United States, held in Philadelphia. This section examines key purveyors of decorative designs for the elite during the age of the Aesthetic Movement: Louis Comfort Tiffany, Candace Wheeler (his early business partner and a specialist in textiles at Associated Artists, the pioneering interior design firm), Dora Wheeler (Candace’s daughter), and John La Farge (Tiffany’s main competitor in the development of stained-glass work). These multitalented artists played important roles as tastemakers and creative producers for upper- and middle-class consumers in search of artistic counsel and decorative goods. In addition to their innovative approaches to designing both domestic and public spaces, these influential figures called on their broad networks of New York cultural connections. This collaborative practice accounted for their success in the new role of professional decorators who orchestrated the myriad details of interiors into a harmonious whole.

Selected Artworks

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The House Beautiful, Essays on Beds and Tables, Stools and Candlesticks, Clarence Cook  American, Illustrations: color lithographs and wood engravings
Multiple artists/makers
1878
Firescreen, John La Farge  American, Leaded opalescent glass, brass, American
John La Farge (American, New York 1835–1910 Providence, Rhode Island)
1884
Squash Window with Pebbles, Louis C. Tiffany  American, Glass, beach-worn quartz, lead came, American
Louis C. Tiffany (American, New York 1848–1933 New York)
1885–90
Bar Harbor, Twilight, John La Farge  American, Watercolor and gouache on off-white wove paper, American
John La Farge (American, New York 1835–1910 Providence, Rhode Island)
1896
Marine, John La Farge  American, Watercolor and gouache on off-white wove paper, American
John La Farge (American, New York 1835–1910 Providence, Rhode Island)
1883 (?)
Pinecones-and-needles textile, Associated Artists  American, Silk, woven, American
Associated Artists (1883–1907)
Manufactured by Cheney Brothers (American, 1838–1955)
1883–1900
Portrait of the Painter, John La Farge  American, Oil on wood panel, American
John La Farge (American, New York 1835–1910 Providence, Rhode Island)
1859

Plan Your Visit

Dates
Through July 21
Free with Museum admission
Woman painting while in a room full of women reading