a world-renowned collection of American artists.
The National Arts Club Permanent Collection
Although The National Arts Club acquired the occasional painting and sculpture while headquartered at 37-39 West 34th Street (1898-1906), a program for the systematic acquisition of art was not formulated until June 1909 at a Special Meeting of the Members. Eager to bring the most esteemed American artists of the day into the orbit of the club, and taking advantage of the greater amount of wall space afforded by the conversion of the former Tilden mansion into the new clubhouse (1905-06), board member and art patron William T. Evans proposed the establishment of an artist life membership category whereby leading painters and sculptors would receive permanent membership in exchange for a representative example of their work. Following the practice of the National Academy of Design, the artist’s donation would be referred to as a “diploma presentation.”
The proposal was duly ratified and incorporated into an amendment to the constitution, setting into motion a formal program that, until its demise in 1950, allowed the club to establish a small but specialized collection of just over 200 paintings and sculptures by some of the finest artists of the day. Of the diploma presentations accumulated over the years, a number were de-accessioned by the club during the 1930s and 40s; the approximately 122 that have survived constitute the nucleus of the club’s permanent collection as we know it today.
The existing collection of diploma paintings is especially strong in Impressionism, featuring key examples by the likes of Daniel Putnam Brinley, Charles Courtney Curran, Daniel Garber, Philip Leslie Hale, Gari Melchers, William McGregor Paxton, Robert Spencer, Robert Vonnoh, Everett Longley Warner and many others. The early twentieth-century Realist tradition is represented by painters such as Robert Henri, Homer Boss, F. Luis Mora and Eugene Speicher, while Regional Realism of the 1930s and 40s is exemplified in the work of Jerry Farnsworth and Lamarr Dodd. The collection of diploma paintings also includes many important examples of Tonalism--a movement contemporary with Impressionism--with representative canvases by such esteemed artists as Birge Harrison and Paul Cornoyer. The majority of diploma paintings--many of which were in poor condition and relegated to the storage room--have been given new life through a restoration program established in 1991 and operated under the aegis of the Curatorial Committee.
Although the artist life program tended to favor painters, a number of important American sculptors were inducted into the ranks of the artist life members, among them Malvina Hoffman, represented by her distinctive Bali Boy, and Anna Hyatt Huntington, whose majestic Joan of Arc graces the mantle in the northwest parlor. Lee Lawrie, Paul Manship, and Victor Brenner were also among the coterie of noted sculptors who were elected to the artist life membership program and whose work can be found in the club parlors.
Since 1950, The National Arts Club has greatly expanded its holdings through gifts and acquisitions, acquiring paintings, sculptures and works on paper by contemporary American artists such as Will Barnet, Chen Chi, Peter Cox, Gary Erbe, Diana Kan, Everett Raymond Kinstler and Greg Wyatt, among others. Highlights of the collection that deserve special mention include a collection of nineteenth century Chinese decorative art (gift of Alan and Cynthia Fine) and a group of small-scale paintings and works on paper produced by artist members for the Men’s Grill during the late 1910s and 1920s. To date, the club’s holdings number approximately 1032 artworks, largely by American artists.
In keeping with its goal of supporting research in American art, the club frequently loans works from the collection to scholarly exhibitions presented by institutions and galleries such as the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, Connecticut; the Thomas Walsh Gallery, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut; the Trout Gallery, Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pennsylvania; the Society of Illustrators, New York, and Berry-Hill Galleries, New York.
For further reading about the artist life membership program, see Carol Lowrey, A Noble Tradition: American Paintings from the National Arts Club Permanent Collection (Old Lyme, Connecticut: Florence Griswold Museum, 1995). Copies are available from the Treasurer’s Office, $15.00 (shipping and handling extra).
Publications Related to the Permanent Collection
Carol Lowrey, A Legacy of Art: Paintings and Sculptures by Artist Life Members of the National Arts Club (New York: National Arts Club, 2007). Paintings and sculpture from the early-to-mid 20th century by Artist Life Members of the NAC, including Anna Hyatt Huntington, Ernest Lawson, Hayley Lever, Robert Henri, Paul Manship, Helen M. Turner and many others. Copies may be purchased directly at the Club.