Gilded Age New York

  • Posted on Nov 16, 2011 by

The art exhibitions of small galleries, society clubs, and associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries chronicle the emergence of New York City as a metropolis destined to be a global center for the international art market. Ephemeral exhibition catalogs, checklists, and pamphlets from this period document artistic movements, artists of the period, economic markets, and social and cultural history. The materials from eleven galleries, clubs, and associations that have played a pivotal role in the history of art and New York City have been digitized from the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives and are now available to researchers worldwide. Spanning the period from 1875 to 1922, this initial collection serves as the foundation for a more comprehensive project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century.

Union League Club (New York, N.Y.), “Annual exhibition of American paintings. 1893,” Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century, accessed November 16, 2011,

The collaborative project to digitize holdings of exhibition catalogs held at the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives has just been completed, and funding for a next phase secured. Entitled "Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century", the collection offers 172 catalogs from eleven art galleries, clubs, and associations that were active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in full-text digital facsimiles to researchers worldwide through Arcade, the NYARC consortium catalog.

From the time when they were established, both libraries have documented the rich artistic climate in New York City, acquiring exhibition catalogs, checklists, invitations, and promotional material from societies, clubs, galleries, dealers, and collectors. Art historians as well as scholars in other disciplines consult these materials to document taste, trade, popular culture, economic indicators, and social structures during the Gilded Age.  Dr. Virginia Brilliant, Associate Curator of European Art at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and author of Gothic Art in the Gilded Age: Medieval and Renaissance Treasures in the Gavet-Vanderbilt-Ringling Collection comments:

The circumstances in which art was displayed at any given time often sheds light on the esteem in which it was then held. This significant group of digitized exhibition catalogues offers scholars an unprecedented opportunity to reconstruct and meander through the “ephemeral museums” of Gilded Age New York, seeking new understandings of the ways in which works of art were presented and received in this fundamental moment in the history of collecting and taste in America. While it is wonderful to be able to access this material remotely, this offering should also pique interest in the rich collections of the Frick and the Brooklyn Museum, bringing in new users and illuminating new paths for exploration for established ones.  

Union League Club (New York, N.Y.), “Catalogue of a loan collection of American landscapes together with Greek terra-cotta figures and vases,” Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century, accessed November 16, 2011,  

An accompanying online exhibition curated by library staff members adds historical context to the body of material, featuring images highlighting the Brummer Gallery, Century Association, Colony Club, Cottier Gallery, Grand Central Art Galleries, Lotos Club, Montross Gallery, National Association of Portrait Painters, New York Water Color Club, Salmagundi Club, and Union League Club. The exhibition may be viewed at Profiles of the featured eleven associations offer brief histories and a sample of images from the catalogs. Selected highlights follow the subsequent provenance of exhibited works. The digital collection and online exhibition illuminate the role these institutions played in cultivating artistic movements, track the emergence of notable European and American artists, and detail the rich cultural history of New York City and the nation.

Stephen Bury, the Andrew W. Mellon Chief Librarian of The Frick Art Reference Library comments:

Due to their ephemeral nature, these materials were often not collected, cataloged or preserved by libraries. By digitizing this collection, researchers unable to travel to New York to consult the collection in our reading rooms now have the opportunity to use these materials to create new scholarship from their desktop.

Deirdre Lawrence, Principal Librarian at the Brooklyn Museum adds:

These materials, which complement existing collections such as those for the Salmagundi Club in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, have significance to scholars from a number of disciplines, ranging from art and cultural historians to economists.

The next phase of the project, to be carried out during 2012, will add digital copies from the Frick and Brooklyn Museum library holdings of nearly 500 catalogs from exhibitions held at art galleries in New York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Funding for the collection and a second expansion to take place during 2012 is provided by the New York State Regional Bibliographic Databases Program, as part of its support of Digital Metro New York, a collaborative effort to support digitization projects involving significant collections held by METRO member libraries in New York City and Westchester County.

MARC records for the collection are available to libraries from our About page, which provides more technical details about this project.  

Deborah Kempe, Chief, Collections Managment & Access, The Frick Art Reference Library

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