Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America, a new exhibition on view at the New-York Historical Society from September 27, 2013 through March 9, 2014, will explore the critical and popular resurgence of portraiture in the United States in the period bounded by the close of the Civil War and the beginning of World War I. Known as the Gilded Age, the era was marked by unprecedented industrial expansion yielding vast personal fortunes. Today, the Gilded Age conjures visions of material opulence and personal excess, yet it also inspired a fascinating chapter in American cultural and social history. With the amassing of great fortunes came the drive to document the wealthy in portraiture, echoing a cultural pattern reaching back to colonial times. A brilliant generation of American and European artists rose to meet that demand.
Organized for the New-York Historical Society by guest curator Dr. Barbara Dayer Gallati, the exhibition will feature sixty-five portraits selected from New-York Historical’s outstanding holdings. The sitters—ranging from famous society beauties to powerful titans of business and industry—left lasting legacies that contributed to the cultural and economic growth of the nation. Beauty’s Legacy also takes its cue from a series of three important portrait loan exhibitions mounted in New York in the 1890s that were organized for charitable purposes by the city’s social elite. A number of paintings in Beauty’s Legacy were featured in those historic displays and will be installed to evoke the late-nineteenth-century viewing experience.
Beauty’s Legacy will include portraits of prominent New Yorkers, including Emma Thursby, Samuel Verplanck Hoffman, Mary Barrett Wendell, Reverend Henry Codman Potter, and Mary Gardiner Thompson, painted by noted American artists such as John Singer Sargent, James Carroll Beckwith, George Peter Alexander Healy, Daniel Huntington, Eastman Johnson, and Benjamin Curtis Porter. The exhibition also reveals the highly competitive nature of the portrait market, as these American portraitists found themselves in fierce rivalry for American patronage with their European counterparts. The vigorous demand for works by European masters is conveyed by portraits of other leading New Yorkers— including James Hazen Hyde, Georgina Schuyler, Samuel Ward McAllister, Cortlandt Field Bishop, Leonard and Rosalie Lewisohn, and Samuel Untermyer—by European artists Léon Bonnat, (Adolphe) William Bouguereau, Carolus-Duran, Alexandre Cabanel, Anders Zorn, and Théobald Chartran. The exhibition will also feature a selection of twenty-five exquisite portraits from Peter Marié’s vast collection of miniatures, known by his contemporaries as his “Gallery of Beauty,” underscoring the intersection of beauty, celebrity, and social prestige.
Beauty’s Legacy: Gilded Age Portraits in America will be accompanied by a catalogue of the same title, published by the New-York Historical Society in association with D Giles Limited, London. The fully-illustrated volume includes essays by Dr. Gallati and Dr. Valerie Steele, Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology, New York.
The exhibit was made possible by a generous grant provided to the New-York Historical Society by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, Inc.; as well as support from Irma R. Rappaport, John Joe Ricketts, Janice Stanton, and an anonymous donor.
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history
New-York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as WWII & NYC, Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Drawn by New York: Six Centuries of Watercolors and Drawings at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New York; Nueva York (1613 – 1945); and Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn. Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York.