The New-York Historical Society--the oldest museum in the city--has been a repository of choice for wealthy New Yorkers to leave their collections. The permanent collection, in many ways, has become a 'collection of collections.' This presentation of the permanent collection showcases paintings donated from a handful of major collectors over the years. Since the paintings originate from different collectors with distinctive tastes, there is a variety to the artists, periods, styles, and themes. Some of the names, like Pablo Picasso, Gilbert Stuart, and Thomas Cole, are familiar, but most of the pieces come from lesser-known artists. Dominating the space is a stage decoration by Picasso--worth a visit to the museum just to see this.
What You Will See
Paintings from six collections form this exhibit. Luman Reed, one of the earliest patrons of American Art in New York City, collected contemporary 19th-century work, particularly landscapes from the likes of Thomas Cole and George Whiting Flagg. Much of his collection was donated to the Historical Society in 1858. Thomas Jefferson Bryan opened his own Gallery of Christian Art to house his vast collection of religious paintings from European old masters. Robert L. Stuarts vast collection of art was intended for the Natural History Museum or the Met, but his widow, concerned about those museums' plan to offer Sunday hours, sent the collection here instead. The exhibition also shows samples of two popular early-American genres: Maritime Paintings and Portraits of Children from the colonial period. The exhibit rounds out with a look at recent efforts by the museum to collect 20th and 21st-century art.
Why You Should Go
With so many other options for fine art, the Historical Society generally focuses its exhibitions elsewhere. But with over 2,500 works in its vaults, dating from the colonial period through the 20th-century, it is unexpectedly home to one of the city's largest collections of American art. While the museum has an ongoing effort to acquire newer works, the foundation of its art collection was established in the early 19th century, resulting in a significant historical bias. The art captures culturally, economic, and social history. The rise of New York City as a mercantile hub is evidenced by the collections of those who made their fortunes. The state of society in the 19th-century, its interests, tastes, and concerns, are captured on canvas. Come for the art or come for the history--you will find both in this collection.