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date: 21 September 2019

Society of American Artistslocked

  • Saul Zalesch

Extract

The Society of American Artists (1877–1906) was the most conspicuous and historically significant of the art organizations that proliferated in New York during the last quarter of the 19th century. It saw itself, and scholars have usually portrayed it, as a liberal challenger to the National Academy of Design . In reality the Society’s birth and operation had little to do with modern conceptions of liberal versus conservative ideals for art but reflected a fundamental American/European split over the way that art progresses and how to educate popular tastes. It was inextricably linked with the interests of members of New York’s traditional cultural elite then defending their leadership against the growing influence bought by the unprecedented wealth of America’s “Robber Barons.”

Although mostly discussed by historians in monographic studies of its more famous members, the Society deserves careful study because the circumstances of its creation, operation, and eventual merger with the National Academy of Design offer richer insights into artists’ attitudes and the complexities of artistic patronage in New York than are usually found in studies of American art of that period....

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