The Tenth Street Studio Building: Artist-Entrepreneurs from the Hudson River School to the American Impressionists

The Tenth Street Studio Building was the first modern facility constructed to completely serve artists' needs. Situated on the north side of Tenth Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in New York City, the building quickly became celebrated, not only for its innovative modern design, but for its distinguished roster of tenants. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the building became a national architectural prototype for the profession. From its inception in 1857, artists from all over the country congregated there to work, exhibit, and sell their creations. Wealthy patrons, influential critics and the inquisitive public attended well-publicized receptions, and the activities in the building helped transform Greenwich Village into a hub for the visual arts.

Artists' receptions at Tenth Street took place almost every year in the 1860s. The addition of music, flowers, refreshments, food, and the presence of the artists themselves was a draw in the 1860s, but by the 1880s, with many collectors buying European art, these amenities alone were not enough to lure customers to the studio. Artist-tenants also marketed their work at art organizations, fairs, clubs, and auctions; they sought advertising, solicited reviews and articles, produced catalogues and brochures, and paid special attention to the framing of their works. Their shift to dealers and galleries during the post-Civil War era marks the change in marketing trends.

By the last quarter of the century, a new group of artists--William Merritt Chase, Frederick Dielman, Walter Shirlaw, and Lemuel Wilmarth--were in residence. The studios had evolved over the years from utilitarian work spaces to rooms crammed with lavish displays of props, paintings, prints and exotic objects representing the artists' refined taste. William Merritt Chase was one artist who maximized the promotional properties of the studio. Clad in a red fez, and sometimes a flowing cape, accompanied by his Russian wolfhounds, Chase established himself as a knowledgeable connoisseur, a voracious collector, and an artist of consequence. His studio was a reflection of his cosmopolitan taste, a repository for a variety of objects, including paintings, prints, books, glass, furniture, jewelry, candlesticks, Spanish bridles, Javenese curios, samovars, musical instruments, lanterns, tapestries, shoes and over six hundred rings. Some items became props for paintings, others were for inspiration, and still others for aesthetic ambiance.

Chase was preoccupied with his studio as a subject in his early years at Tenth Street. He painted it from many different perspectives, focusing on the studio as an aesthetic domain in which he explored the theme of beauty. Frequently, Chase's female students or models posed for him. Rather than becoming the subject of the painting, the human figure was combined with the plethora of objects in an explosion of color, shape, and texture, as in two of his paintings titled In the Studio. The whole took precedence over the parts; until the mid 1880s when Chase began to focus on the female figure. For Chase, Church, Bierstadt, and other tenants of The Tenth Street Building, the studio became far more than a functional space; it was a signifier of status, culture, and success, and most importantly, a critical marketing tool. In this context, The Studio Building serves as a microcosm for the nineteenth-century art world as a whole. How the artists utilized their studios and exhibition gallery, how the art market impacted their work, and how their role in the selling of art changed from the 1860s to the 1890s is the theme of this exciting exhibition.