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Subscriber: null; date: 17 September 2019

National Academy of Designlocked

  • Tracy Fitzpatrick

Artists’ association, art school and exhibition space. The National Academy of Design (NAD; now known as the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts) was one of the earliest organizations in the USA devoted to the development of the fine arts. It was established in 1825 as an honorary association and art school with a permanent collection and an annual exhibition program. The earliest institution of its kind in the USA, it was modeled after the Royal Academy in England as an artist-run organization founded to “promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition.” As the 19th century progressed the NAD developed a reputation for conservatism.

The NAD emerged as an itinerant institution with locations in sites around New York City. It opened its first permanent space, a Venetian Gothic-revival building designed by Peter B(onnett) Wight, in 1865. In 1942, it moved to its current location, a Beaux-Arts building donated by Archer Milton Huntington and Anna Hyatt Huntington, who was a member of the Academy. Its permanent homes have allowed it to house its meeting space, collection, school and exhibitions under the same roof.

National Academicians (NAs) of the NAD/NAMSFA are elected by their peers in one of four categories: architecture, graphic arts, painting or sculpture. Prospects for membership do not apply. Rather they are recommended by NAs for consideration during annual elections. There have been over 2000 NAs since the organization opened. Once accepted, NAs donate a work of art to the Academy. The NAD/NAMSFA now houses a collection of over 7,000 works of art in a range of media and styles dating from the 1820s to the present day.

The NAD was the first artistic design school in the USA. Prior to its establishment, artists working in the USA were self-trained, obtained private local instruction or traveled to Europe for their training. During its first 150 years, the NAD was devoted to traditional academic training practiced at the Royal Academies in London and Paris. The earliest members of the NAD drew from plaster casts, were instructed in anatomy and perspective and attended lectures on various topics relevant to their training.

The NAD/NAMSFA’s Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Art was also the first of its kind in the USA. Critical to the mission of the Academy, it offered exhibition opportunities to its members and exposed the public to contemporary art. These exhibitions began as juried competitions, open to all artists. Academicians were expected to participate every year.

In the 1970s, the Academy decided that its exhibition program had become staid and began inviting well-known artists to exhibit without being subject to review by the jury. In 2002, the NAD changed the parameters of the exhibition again, devoting alternating years to juried competitions for artists other than NAs. These shifts in its annual exhibition practices changed the nature of the NAD/NAMSFA more generally, attracting a more diverse population of artists to its membership and shifting the ways in which art is taught in its school. Today, as the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, the organization remains devoted to its founding principles but is less stringent in approach and thus better able to serve 21st-century artists.


  • National Academy of Design: The First Hundred Years (New York, 1925)
  • National Academy of Design: History 1825–1950: 125th Anniversary Celebration (New York, 1949)
  • E. C. Clark: History of the National Academy of Design, 1825–1953 (New York, 1954)
  • D. B. Dearinger: Rare Reviews: American Art and Its Critics (2000)
  • D. B. Dearinger: Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design (New York, 2004)