Documenting Art Collections in Gilded Age New York

Frick Art Reference Library

Historical Resources at the Frick Art Reference Library

Catalogues of Private Art Collections in New York
Often privately printed, Gilded Age catalogues range from simple inventory lists to grand presentation copies featuring lavish bindings and illustrations. Today they play an important role in understanding the history of collecting—together with auction catalogues, they document  the travels of artworks through Gilded Age collections. This exhibition presents an assortment of collectors, painters, and dealers whose art collections are documented by historical catalogues and other materials held at The Frick Art Reference Library. Please view the video in the next slide, authored and narrated by Inge Reist, Director of the Center for the History of Collecting at The Frick Collection, before enjoying the rest of the exhibit. The video provides a glimpse into the history of art collecting and the value of these resources.

The J. Pierpont Morgan Collection of Drawings by Old Masters Formed by C. Fairfax Murray was privately printed in four lavishly illustrated, oversized volumes comprising many attractive reproductions.

The next two slides represent catalogues that act as guides, taking the reader through the rooms where the works are located. This image depicts the table of contents in Pictures in the Collection of Henry Clay Frick, at One East Seventieth Street, New York.

Mrs. Morgan's Collection of Paintings also lists works by location. Annotations of appraiser prices are found in the copy held at the Frick Art Reference Library.

New York Collections
The Frick Art Reference Library holds many catalogues documenting private art collections formed in New York City during the Gilded Age. European and American landscapes, portraits, and genre paintings; European sculpture and furniture; and decorative arts from Asia and Egypt were particularly popular at that time.

French paintings of the Barbizon School were favorites of many Gilded Age collectors.

Reproduction of a Jean-François Millet painting in Art Treasures of America.

Portraits of nobles reflect the aspirational striving of Gilded Age collectors. Lady Cecil Rice by Sir Joshua Reynolds belonged to Edward Rathbone Bacon, as documented in this 1919 catalogue.

Genre scenes were popular to paint and collect during the Gilded Age. This photogravure of a painting by American artist Charles Sprague Pearce is found in Recent Ideals of American Art.

Genre painting depicted scenes from ordinary life. This is a reproduction from Sheldon's Recent Ideals of American Art.

William Henry Lippincott was an American painter who studied in Europe. This photogravure is also found in Sheldon's publication Recent Ideals of American Art.

An illustration from the catalogue of Chinese Art Objects...Collected by Edward Bacon. Gilded Age collections often included decorative arts pieces. This work is more than four feet tall.

Gilded Age collectors also supported the American artists in their midst.

In 1918, the New York Times reported on the large sums of money spent on American art at the George A. Hearn auction.

A description of Landscape by American artist Ralph Albert Blakelock from the George A. Hearn auction catalogue. This piece sold for $17,500 to Bernet, according to a New York Times article dated February 28, 1918 (see previous slide). Annotations found in the copy held at the Frick Art Reference Library.

Illustration of Blakelock's Landscape from the George A. Hearn auction catalogue.

List of works featuring George Inness's Summer—Sunshine and Shadow in the Frederick Seymour Gibbs collection catalogue. Gibbs often collected work by American artists as well as foreign ones.

Illustration of Summer—Sunshine and Shadow by George Inness.

Hearn was one of the first to believe in the importance of collecting work by American artists. This catalogue includes three paintings by George Inness. The one listed here sold for much less than his Wood Gatherers, as is demonstrated in the news clipping a few slides before.

Raiders or Benefactors?Perception of Gilded Age Collectors
In the late nineteenth century, newly wealthy Americans widely collected fine and decorative art. They filled their mansions with local and foreign artworks, often traveling abroad or using dealers to secure masterpieces from overseas. Collectors ranged from those who could afford masterworks to those of modest means who nevertheless assembled notable collections.

With a market glut resulting from hard times in Europe, newly wealthy Americans responded enthusiastically. Rich Americans were often portrayed as indiscriminate raiders in a race for status, but catalogues demonstrate a more nuanced milieu. Collectors were not only buying European masterworks but also works by distinguished and up-and-coming artists from America.

As a civic endeavor, many collectors opened their home galleries to the public or bequeathed their collections to museums.

The Parrish Museum was opened by Samuel L. Parrish for the people of Southampton, New York, and surrounding communities, providing them access to important works of art from Europe. Many of these works were reproductions of famous statuary found in Italy, Paris, and the United States. In the 1950s, after Parrish's death, the Museum began collecting works by American artists, such as William Merritt Chase, who taught art classes in Eastern Long Island from 1891–1902.

Gallery of Collectors
Here are many of the New York patrons of art during the Gilded Age whose collections are documented in catalogues at the Frick Art Reference Library.

Henry Clay Frick worked his way from a rural Mennonite community in Pennsylvania to become the prosperous co-owner of a coke business in Pittsburgh, where he lived with his wife, Adelaide. In 1905, he moved to New York, where he established himself among the preeminent art collectors of his age. In 1913, he began to build an impressive mansion on Fifth Avenue, largely to house his increasingly celebrated holdings. The Frick home and collection were opened to the public upon his wife's death.

Besides an art collector and the first American to purchase a Rodin sculpture, Yerkes was a visionary railway planner. When his unreliable trams ultimately destroyed his reputation in Chicago, where he had made his fortune, he moved to Fifth Avenue with his wife and budding art collection. He built a mansion for his mistress, Emilie Grigsby, two blocks away. He invested in the London railway system and became the chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Company, which gave the English “tube” its name.

Financier, real estate developer, soldier, author, inventor, and art collector, John Jacob Astor IV was one of the richest men of his day. He built the Astoria section of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the St. Regis Hotel. He drowned in the sinking of the Titanic.

Rita Lydig was a stylish New York socialite. She personally decorated her small Renaissance style home, designed by architect Stanford White, with Gothic objects, paintings, and sculpture. Botticelli's Venus was among the most magnificent paintings in her collection, which included works by Tintoretto, Mazo, and Andrea della Robbia.

Trained as an international banker, J.P. Morgan traveled back and forth to Europe often. In the early years of his career he began buying manuscripts and books. His vast collection grew as he constantly crossed the Atlantic. Upon his father's death and inheritance, his literary collecting took a grandiose turn: he spent roughly $60 million on art during the last two decades of his life.

W. H. Vanderbilt began collecting art at the age of 33. He made many sojourns abroad and was known to buy directly from artists, often generously giving more than the asking price.

Josef Stransky, a Czech conductor and composer, conducted the New York Philharmonic from 1911–23, replacing Gustav Mahler. He gave up conducting shortly after leaving the Philharmonic to become an art dealer and collector.

James Wells Champney was an artist; a master of pastels and reproductions. He studied in Paris and made a name for himself back in the U.S., in Boston and New York. He was a member of many New York art clubs, the Century Club, the Players' Club, and the National Arts Club among them. Several of his works were exhibited at Knoedler's Gallery on Fifth Avenue.

Catharine Lorillard Wolfe was a philanthropist and art collector who purchased Grace Church in New York City to secure its foundation; established a home for incurables; and gifted a collection of shells and a library of conchology to the Museum of Natural History. Her collection of modern masters developed with her trips in the mid-1870s to Europe where she befriended some artists, including Barbizon school painter Cabanel, whom she commissioned to paint her full-length portrait, seen here. She bequeathed more than one hundred paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1887, along with money for its upkeep. She was the first female subscriber and benefactor of the museum.

William Merritt Chase was an artist in the Impressionist school, a teacher, and an art collector. He opened the Chase School of Art in New York, 1896, today known as Parsons the New School for Design. The auction catalogue for his collection documents his holdings of European and American artists, masters and amateurs alike.

J. Townsend Lansing’s collection of paintings was catalogued by the Albany Institute and Historical and Art Society in 1924. He owned paintings by both American and European artists.

Besides being an art collector, George A. Hearn was also a New York dry goods merchant. He collected paintings by contemporary American artists such as Sargent and Inness, as well as Chinese porcelain and decorative art. He donated most of his collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A former map maker in New York, Inness studied drawing at an early age. Longing for color, he took up painting in his early twenties. Thomas B. Clarke and George I. Seney are just two of many collectors who owned his work, or hoped to.

A financier and railroad man, Bacon was not well known as an art collector, though he possessed more than two hundred works, which hung from every inch of his New York apartment. Many of these objects were acquired from art collector T.J. Blakeslee.

The first encyclopedia of American art collections
“Art Treasures in America,” published in 1880, is an opulent, three volume compilation documenting the most important art collections formed by Americans after the Civil War. Many of these collections were established in New York, the epicenter of the art market. Author Earl Shinn (pseudonym Edward Strahan) visited and fully documented each collection. Beautiful photogravures illustrate the volumes. 

The book's author claims America will be the first to document its art treasures, recording where they are held and by whom.

A painting by Bouguereau in the Collis P. Huntington collection exemplifies the superb black and white reproductions in Art Treasures of America.

Unlike other collectors who often dedicated a single room or wing to their art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe's holdings were displayed throughout her home in Madison Square. Shinn's account of his visit describes this unique display and lauds Wolfe as an advanced collector.

A list of works in Wolfe's collection in the Art Treasures of America.

Theodore A. Havemeyer was a third generation part-owner of the Havemeyer & Elder Sugar Refinery. Like his brother Henry O. Havemeyer, Theodore also collected art.

A list of T. A. Havemeyer's art collection in the Art Treasures of America.

Travels of a painting in New York: Frans Hals "Portrait of a Woman"
The painting once belonged to J. Bernard and was purchased in Amsterdam by de Vries. D. P. Sellar, London. In an 1889 Paris auction, Charles Shiff purchased the painting and then sold it to Charles T. Yerkes in 1893. At the 1910 Yerkes auction in New York, it was purchased for $137,000 by M. Knoedler, who then sold it to Henry Clay Frick a few months later for $150,000. (Frick only paid $140,000 for the painting as he had a credit of $10,000 for a painting he returned to M. Knoedler in the same transaction.)

The Yerkes mansion at Fifth Avenue; two blocks south of Henry Clay Frick's future home at East 70th Street and Fifth Avenue.

A fine reproduction of the painting in the 1910 Yerkes auction catalogue.

Item description for Hals's Portrait of a Woman from the 1910 catalogue. Annotations from the copy held at the Frick Art Reference library.

Edward Brandus's enthusiastic response to Frick about the Hals Portrait of a Woman, calling it the finest painting of a Dutch woman outside of a Rembrandt.

Two letters from M. Knoedler in response to Frick’s purchase of the Hals painting.

Hals's Portrait of a Woman hanging in the West Gallery of the Frick Collection in June 2015.

The Gilded Age Home of Rita Lydig
The auction and collection catalogues of Rita Lydig illustrate artworks as displayed in her home and list information on the previous owners of the works.

This illustration shows the high-relief Madonna Adoring the Child, with an Angel, hung over the mantel.

Madonna Adoring the Child, with Angel, from the Rita Lydig collection catalogue. This work is attributed to the style of Andrea della Robbia.

The description page for the high-relief from the Rita Lydig auction catalogue. The provenance information is clearly stated in the last paragraph and sentence.

Portrait of a Noblewoman (the Girl in Red), in the drawing room, from Lydig's private collection catalogue.

Alonso Sanchez Coello's Portrait of Noblewoman (the Girl in Red) from the Rita Lydig collection catalogue. The painting was attributed to Coello at the date of this catalogue printing. A few years later, the attribution was dismissed and remains unknown today.

Painting description in the Rita Lydig auction catalogue. Provenance information is stated at the end of the description. Annotations from the copy held at the Frick Art Reference Library.

Visit the Frick Art Reference Library
The library is located at 10 East 71st Street New York, NY 10021. Please see for more information.
Credits: Story

This online exhibition is made possible by a grant from METRO.

Questions and comments related to this exhibition can be submitted through the Frick Art Reference Library Ask a Question form.

MARC records for all of the items in the Documenting Art Collections in Gilded Age New York project are available to libraries worldwide.

Resources found in The Frick Collection and Library were prepared, scanned, and quality assessed by the Frick Art Reference Library Conservation Department and Digital Lab. Please go here to find all materials digitized for this project.

All images are from The Frick Collection and The Frick Art Reference Library except for:

Painting of Paul Durand-Ruel by Auguste Rodin provided by Wikimedia.
Photograph of Josef Stransky by the Bain News Service courtesy Library of Congress.
Photograph of John Jacob Astor provided by Wikimedia.
Painting of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe by Alexandre Cabanal courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For detailed information on the works presented in the video portion of this exhibition, please visit this page.

Online Exhibition
Design and production: Victoria Pilato
Text: Victoria Pilato and Deborah Kempe
Google Open Gallery, Frick team: Vivian Gill and Julie Ludwig Web: Vivian Gill, Valery Chen, and Amanda Orchanian
Video, Inge Reist: Gilded Age Collecting in New York, 2015:
Author and narrator: Inge Reist
Media Producer: Lisa Candage Goble
Associate Media Producer: Sean Troxell

Digital Project
Administrators: Deborah Kempe and Stephen Bury
Project coordinator: Victoria Pilato
Conservation and Digital Lab: Don Swanson
Conservation: Pinky Fung, Alex Bero, Melanie Martin, Harley Grieco, and Felix Esquivel
Digital Reformatting and Quality Assurance: Dean Smith and Kylie Schmitt
DAMS and Technical Support: Luciano Johnson
Systems Manager: Lily Pregill
Cataloging: Mark Bresnan, Rodica Tanjala Krauss, Cynthia Biber, Lily Pregill, and Victoria Pilato
Archives: Sally Brazil, Julie Ludwig, Susan Chore, and Shannon Morelli
Editor: Hilary Becker

Thank you
METRO, Stephen Bury, Deborah Kempe, Inge Reist, Mark Bresnan, Julie Ludwig, Vivian Gill, Suz Massen, Frick Collection/FARL Archives, FARL Photoarchives, FARL Public Services, FARL Book Department, and the Frick Collection Technology & Digital Media Department.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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