The National Arts Club was founded in 1898 by Charles de Kay, the literary and art critic for The New York Times for 18 years. He and a group of distinguished artists and patrons conceived of a gathering place for artists, patrons and audiences in all the arts. American art at the turn of the century had begun to look inward for inspiration, rather than to Europe, and the American art world was alive with energy. As The National Arts Club moved into its first home in a townhouse on 34th Street, American art had found a new home.
The National Arts Club is located in the historic Tilden Mansion. 15 Gramercy Park was built in the 1840's and its original flat-front, iron-grilled appearance matched the style of the houses still maintained on the west side of Gramercy Park. Samuel Tilden acquired 15 Gramercy Park in the 1860's, and in the 1870's gave the house a massive overhaul. Tilden hired Calvert Vaux, a famed architect and one of the designers of Central Park to "victorianize" the facade with sandstone, bay windows and Gothic Ornamentation. John LaFarge created stained glass ceilings for the inside of the mansion, and Italian wood carvers made the fireplaces. Glass master Donald MacDonald wrought a unique stained glass dome for the building. All of this prompted architect Philip Johnson to call the mansion, "among the most beautiful in New York." Spencer Trask and the Board of Governors acquired the Tilden Mansion in 1906 as the new home for the National Arts Club.
The Tilden Mansion is both a designated New York Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. In the 1960's, New York declared 15 Gramercy Park South a New York Landmark, and in 1976, the Federal government declared it a National Historic Landmark. The Tilden Mansion continues to inspire artists from around the world. NAC member Albinus Elskus undertook a restoration of the MacDonald dome in the 1970's, and recently, in 2000, Danish sculptor Tycho Flore created a piece inspired by and from the same material as the Calvert Vaux facade.
The National Arts Club admitted women on a full and equal basis from its inception. The National Arts Club has a long history of exclusivity through inclusivity. Charles Spencer Trask, Charles Rollison Lamb, Charles de Kay and the other co-founders recognized the importance of many female artists and saw no reason to treat them differently from male artists. The National Arts Club continues its tradition of inclusivity by welcoming minority artists.
In Good Company
The Club's Membership has included three presidents, and some of the most important artists and arts patrons in America. Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower were all members of the National Arts Club. Among the distinguished painters who have been Members are Robert Henri, Frederic Remington, William Merritt Chase and Cecilia Beaux. Sculptors have included Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, Anna Hyatt Huntington and Paul Manship. Many renowned literary figures have also been members. The National Arts Club is proud of its early recognition of new media artforms, like photography, film and digital media, and counts Alfred Stieglitz as one of its early Members. Musicians Victor Herbert and Walter Damrosch were Members, as were architects Stanford White and George B. Post. The Dramatic Arts are currently represented by Members Martin Scorcese, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Robert Redford and Uma Thurman.
The National Arts Club fosters young artists with a number of awards and scholarships. Many of the committees award scholarships to young artists, writers and singers. The National Arts Club Opera Competition attracts international applications. The Club is as committed to nurturing young talent as it is to recognizing established artists.
Run By Volunteers
The National Arts Club is run by volunteers. The National Arts Club hosts some of the most exciting events in New York—art unveilings, award dinners, film screenings, lectures, dances and anything else you can think of. All of these programs, as well as the scholarship competitions, exhibitions and other activities are coordinated by the Membership as volunteers who act out of their love for the arts and the Club, and thus broaden the public's understanding of our broad cultural community.