Purchase Story

Art and Antiques in Time of Crisis: The Metropolitan Fair of 1864

Like many in the art and antiques field, I have been stuck at home, with daily business largely at a standstill. I’ve used part of the time to fine-tune a manuscript written in 2019 for the Frick Center for the History of Collecting about the remarkable New York City dry goods merchant and art patron Jonathan Sturges (1802-1874).

Sturges and members of his family played leading organizational and philanthropic roles in the April 1864 Great Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, held under the auspices of the United States Sanitary Commission.1 A fund-raising exhibition in support of the Union cause, the Metropolitan Fair was presented in an assortment of permanent and temporary structures erected in and around Union Square in New York City and was open April 4-23, 1864. This patriotic extravaganza was the largest of some two dozen such exposition-bazaars presented in northern cities from the autumn of 1863 through 1864 and into 1865.2 The speed with which these fairs were planned and staged is unthinkable today, and they were truly important events for presenting the latest achievements in not only the fine and decorative arts but also engineering, science, agriculture, and other disciplines. The Metropolitan Fair prospectus laid out ambitious yet egalitarian goals:

“[I]t is intended to be worthy of the great city in which it is to be held.... To that end, it must be universal in its attractions, enlisting all sympathies, pleasing all healthy tastes, and satisfying all honest needs. It must be democratic, but not vulgar; elegant, but not exclusive; fashionable, but not frivolous; popular, but not mediocre.... [S]omething for everybody to do; something...for everybody to buy; something to gratify the sober and please the gay, to win the approval of the serious and the utilitarian, and at the same time to catch the eye and suit the taste of the young, the light-hearted, and even the trifling. The good, the rich, the well-to-do—those in humble life, the fashionable, the politicians, the clergy, the Chamber of Commerce, the Police, the Fire Department, the Trades’ Unions, and all the great industrial establishments, should be interested in this Fair.”3

The sanitary fairs featured overabundant displays devoted to agriculture, floriculture, fashion, machinery, religion, history, militaria, fine art, cooking, needlework, books, rare documents, autographs, and on and on. Items ranged from homemade pincushions and children’s crafts to masterworks of fine art and magnificent pieces of furniture designed by Herter Brothers and John Belter. The overarching design and sentiment was national history and collective support for reunification. The proceeds from the sale of tickets and donated objects, many of them quite valuable, benefited the Union cause by helping to establish and staff hospitals, provide medical supplies, and add to the well-being of injured and ill soldiers by providing food, clothing, and other necessities that were in woefully short supply. Following Chicago’s initial fair held in the autumn of 1863, other cities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic hastened to organize their own versions, competing to raise the highest sum; the Metropolitan Fair won, netting $1,183,506.23.4

An extravaganza of patriotism, volunteerism, consumerism, and voyeurism, the fair brought a much-needed uplift to national spirits. The outpouring of American philanthropy and volunteer labor was augmented by loans and donations from abroad, assembled at collecting points in leading European cities and even South America. Donated objects and funds poured in before, during, and even after the fair had closed.5 Additional funds came in from businesses turning over full or partial profits from public transportation, music, dance, and theater performances, and other ticketed events and services. The Metropolitan Fair’s footprint consisted of a hodgepodge of structures added onto the 22nd Regiment Armory and the adjoining Palace Garden, located at the northwest corner of Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue. A second and separate temporary building was constructed at the north end of Union Square.

Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, circa 1857, salted paper print from glass negative, Mathew Brady. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005.

Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, circa 1857, salted paper print from glass negative, Mathew Brady. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, purchase, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005.

A grand parade made up entirely of soldiers, the largest ever seen in the city to that point, heralded the official opening on April 4, a two-mile procession marching from the fair buildings down to City Hall, for review by Mayor Charles Gunther. Gunther proclaimed a citywide holiday, and the sidewalks were teeming with viewers and, no doubt, pickpockets. For almost three weeks, the fair was mobbed from opening at 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. closing, signaled by a bugler and drummers playing Taps. The crowds were humorously described in the fair’s daily newspaper, The Spirit of the Fair:

“Every day and evening since the grand opening of the Fair, the buildings on Fourteenth street have been crowded—or rather packed—with such a mass of people as was never witnessed in this city before. Every inch of space was occupied; and as for walking about or getting up to the tables to purchase, it was simply impossible. The helpless individual drifted hither and thither, as the great tide of people moved in one direction or another, waiting for some lucky chance to bring him where he wished to go. But a more good-humored crowd was never seen.”6

The art exhibition, consisting of some 360 paintings and a few sculptures, assembled by loan and donation from artists and collectors and installed in a 600' long, lofty skylit hall, was one of the most popular attractions. With 35 years in the field of American art history, I was well aware of the basic facts surrounding the exhibition,  but not until 2019, when trying to refine my knowledge of Jonathan Sturges’s role in the colossal project, did I discover that the New-York Historical Society’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library holds the entire Metropolitan Fair archive.7 Spending a series of days in the society’s magnificent reading room, I went through boxes of ledgers, correspondence, and clippings, attaining a better comprehension not only of the Sturges family’s important contributions but discovering fascinating tidbits about the art, antiques, and historical objects displayed throughout the fair.

Boat-Builders’ Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

Boat-Builders’ Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

One end of the principal three-level fair building sheltered the art gallery. The much-loved and highly talented engraver and landscape painter John F. Kensett (1816-1872) directed the exhibition committee, partnering with the wife of Jonathan Sturges, Mary Pemberton Cady Sturges (1806-1894), a schoolteacher and philanthropist in her own right, aided by a distinguished group of artists, art patrons, and their wives.8 The prospectus made it clear that women were the principal motivators of this remarkable display, although typically for the times, women deferred to men in management and decisions:

“In the approaching Metropolitan Fair, it is the desire of the Ladies of New York to afford an opportunity for an outpouring of loyalty and of sympathy for our sick and wounded soldiers, which shall extend to every branch of industry and art. We have not forgotten that our Artists, from the commencement of the war, have been among the most loyal, warm-hearted supporters of our cause; that they have given again and again their time and talents to help our suffering soldiers, and now we invite them to unite with us once more in making this an occasion long to be remembered, where every heart shall bring its tribute of affection for our country. We desire to have, in connection with this Fair, the finest Art Collection which has ever been seen in this country.”9

Oils and watercolors were installed frame jostling frame to the ceiling in the gallery featuring masterpieces, including Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art); Albert Bierstadt’s Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak (1863, Metropolitan Museum of Art); Frederic Edwin Church’s Heart of the Andes (1859, Metropolitan Museum of Art), The Andes of Ecuador (1855, Reynolda House), and Niagara (1857, National Gallery of Art); William Sidney Mount’s Power of Music (1847, Cleveland Museum of Art); Thomas Cole’s pendants The Past and The Present (1838, Mead Art Museum); and scores of other works, mostly American but a number by historical and contemporary European artists as well. The exhibition was a direct precursor to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with the three keynote paintings, Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware, Bierstadt’s Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak, and Church’s Heart of the Andes some years later entering the Metropolitan’s permanent collection, where they are highlights of the American Wing, installed in the same proximity as they were in 1864.10

Of the 360 works in the exhibition catalog, 153 were loans, and the rest were gifted by artists and collectors to be sold at auction, an unprecedented manifestation of generosity and nationalist sentiment.11 Among the donations were two with specific thematic appeal: Emanuel Leutze’s Florence Nightingale at Scutari (whereabouts unknown), an imaginary scene in a military hospital during the Crimean War; and the improbably titled work Goddess of Union Attended by Peace and Plenty, Dismissing the Fury of Rebellion and Her Victims by the Italian-American artist Francesco Augero (1829-1882).12 At one end of the gallery was a display of engravings and photographs and a small group of historical and allegorical busts. Art supplies were offered for sale, as was an important group of American and foreign autographs. Famous portraitist and Civil War photographer Mathew Brady (1822-1896) recorded the exhibition in a series of large-format photographs published in book format.13 Augmenting the individual artworks were two “caskets” holding 55 “sketches” donated by many of the same artists exhibiting in the gallery. They were originally intended for disposal through a raffle; after a public outcry over what was perceived as gambling, the caskets, together with all the donated paintings, were sold at auction a couple of days before the fair’s closing.14

In addition to the main art gallery, fine art, artistic objects, antiques, and rare books were featured in stands and themed rooms throughout the fair. The exhibition has often been discussed in books and articles on specific artists exhibiting at the fair and on individual artworks, histories of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for which the fair was a precursor, and related topics.15 However, a general consideration of the proliferation of art and antiques throughout the fair and the related art offerings is lacking. Ticketed admission to the private galleries of William H. Aspinwall and August Belmont, within walking distance of Union Square, was an additional feature offered to fair-goers, with the proceeds turned over to the treasury. Additionally, art exhibition chair John F. Kensett placed his October Afternoon on Lake George (1863-64, 48¾" x 72½", oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, formerly Corcoran Gallery of Art) on display at Goupil’s art gallery for 25¢ admission, to benefit the fair.

The fair scrapbook in the archive at the historical society features pages of press reviews, including engravings of fair scenes clipped from Harper’s Weekly and other illustrated periodicals.16 The Spirit of the Fair, the fair’s daily newspaper, not only shared practical fair information and descriptions and reviews of displays but also provided a daily update of funds raised and gifts received, along with poetry and prose contributed by leading authors, including William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, and Henry T. Tuckerman. The principal art exhibition is covered in detail in that publication, along with descriptions of fair booths and tables, including several devoted to art and artistic objects.

Combining literary and visual arts, one corner of the New Jersey Department, designed by the architect, designer, and landscape painter Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), was turned over to the Cockloft Summer House, a cottage in Newark, New Jersey, described by Washington Irving and James Kirke Paulding in their periodical Salmagundi.17 This architectural re-creation of the building featured engravings and paintings of scenes from Irving’s internationally famous stories and portraits of their author, along with a selection of his books. Among the works displayed were a portrait of Irving by Gilbert Stuart Newton (1795-1835), Henry Inman’s Mr. Hackett, in the Character of Rip Van Winkle (circa 1832, National Portrait Gallery), and Daniel Huntington’s Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel (1861, Historic Hudson Valley), a scene from Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow lent by W. H. Osborn.18 Other featured artists included Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) with Rip Van Winkle’s Introduction to the Crew of Hendrick Hudson, in the Catskills (1838, location unknown)and Felix Octavius Carr Darley (1822-1888), the illustrator of many Irving stories, represented by the original drawing for the large-format print Washington Irving and His Literary Friends at Sunnyside.19 Along with some ivy plucked from the garden at Sunnyside, Irving’s Dutch step-gabled Colonial home at Tarrytown, was his writing table, lent by his publisher and close friend, George P. Putnam, one of the fair’s sponsors.20

The Knickerbocker Kitchen committee was chaired by the imposing Cornelia Van Ness Roosevelt, doyenne of two Dutch Colonial families. This popular dining site was furnished with antiques, including a hearth crane with its hanging cast-iron cauldron installed in a deep, tall fireplace. Low hand-hewn beams and diamond-mullioned windows, Dutch stoneware, wrought-iron candlesticks, brass kitchen utensils, and simple hand-hewn furniture with long communal tables wove a magic spell, taking visitors back to New Amsterdam during the 1600s. An adjoining room held portraits of Governor Peter Stuyvesant, Chief Justice John Jay, Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden, and Attorney General Egbert Benson, among other Dutch and Colonial dignitaries. Simple, ample food of the period was served at breakfast and tea, with a cordial greeting extended by women wearing dresses belonging to their great-great-grandmothers. Crowded by appreciative, fair-weary visitors, curious to see how their forefathers lived, the Knickerbocker Kitchen was an early example of a period room, over a decade before the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition supposedly touched off the Colonial Revival.

The Architectural Ornament Department, whose committee was chaired by James Renwick, architect of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, displayed decorative objects associated with construction of homes and commercial buildings. The booth was managed by the wives of James Renwick and businessman Henry A. Coit. Often mentioned in reviews were four antique Spanish tapestries with royal provenance presenting scenes from Don Quixote, ornamental stonework, examples of stained glass, and enameled glass made in Bohemia. Relief sculptures carved from American slate of Shakespeare and Lafayette provided by Fisher & Brother were also on view. The German-American sculptor and porcelain designer Karl L. H. Muller (1820-1887) contributed two sculptures, The Biter Bit and a portrait relief, Dr. Harsen.

The Knickerbocker Kitchen, Union Square, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 268.

The Knickerbocker Kitchen, Union Square, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 268.

The New Bedford, Massachusetts, table, one of several rows of tables in the main building’s central space, featured an eye-catching display of rare and beautiful seashells along with other marine-themed objects. A painting displayed by the prominent New Bedford marine artist William Bradford (1823-1892) sold for $100.21 The Musical Instrument Department was hung with portraits of famous musicians and composers. A stage allowed for concerts, operas, and chamber music, offered every night to appreciative audiences.

Even the Library and Book Store, whose committee was chaired by Fletcher Harper, partner in Harper & Brothers publishers, was not immune to the charms of the visual arts, as many art books were offered for sale. One of the most expensive was John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, available for $200.22 Several books were written and published specifically to benefit the fair, with the sale proceeds turned over in part or even fully to the treasury. One such book was a collection of light society anecdotes written by Peter Marié, known for his extensive collection of miniatures depicting famous beauties of the day.23 Another was a book of limericks with accompanying illustrations by some of the day’s leading graphic artists, including F.O.C. Darley.24 Various prints, paintings, and sculptures were scattered about this room.

The Roman Department, devoted largely to fine and decorative art, opened more than a week late because of shipping delays from Italy. What must have been a magnificent and opulent installation was described in detail:

“It is probably the most valuable and extensive collection of curiosities from the Holy Land ever exhibited in this country. A copy by Miss [Emma] STEBBINS, of [Jean-Antoine] HOUDON’s head of WASHINGTON, valued at $500. A bust of Secretary [William] SEWARD, valued at $800, by [Chauncey Bradley] IVES, the celebrated Roman [American] sculptor. A book containing engravings of all the works of [Antonio] CANOVA, presented by [American actress] CHARLOTTE CUSHMAN, with the understanding that it shall not be purchased for less than $500, and that it shall be presented to the Women’s School of Design [at Cooper Union]. A book presented by Mr. [James] HOOKER, the American banker at Rome, valued at $500, containing engravings of the paintings of the celebrated Uffizi Gallery at Florence. A medallion by Miss [Margaret] FOLEY, the sculptress of the head of the Roman Girl, who is remarkable for her beauty, and as being the model of all Roman sculptors, known as the ‘Paschuccia,’ valued at $100. A bust of ‘Faun,’ valued at $250, presented by Mr. MONTAGUE HANDLEY.... An elegant pin of the cross of Savoy, valued at $200, presented by CASTELLAIN [Castellani], the celebrated Roman jeweler. Painting of ‘Sibyl’ on ivory, presented by Mr. and Mrs. D. COLDEN MURRAY. A collection of old Roman coins, valued at $70, presented by Rev. Dr. BUTLER, the Pastor of the American Episcopal Church at Rome.... A large collection of paintings and other valuable articles, presented by Mrs. BRUEN, widow of Rev. MATTHIAS BRUEN, of this City. A collection of relics, marbles and ancient Etruscan pottery, dug up from old ruins, presented by Mrs. Dr. GOULD, and a large collection of paintings by celebrated artists, are among the most attractive articles here exhibited.”25

The Roman Department was arranged by Joseph Lamb (1833-1898), a prominent stained-glass artist and ecclesiastic designer. Not only did Lamb design the booth, he also fabricated and donated an intricate church altar of different woods, decorated with gilding.26

One of the liveliest and perhaps loudest features of the fair was the Indian Department, devised and managed by Albert Bierstadt, the famous painter of Western scenes and a born showman. This was a temporary building with display cases holding ethnographic objects as well as larger beadwork and handmade garments, blankets, tomahawks, bows, painted animal skins, and even scalps hanging on the walls. Dances, including the War Dance and Feather Dance, were scheduled throughout the day, performed by members of the Iroquois tribe upon a stage with a painted backdrop depicting an Indian village in a landscape, which one assumes was created by Bierstadt himself. Two deerskin teepees were erected onstage. Both the Indian Department and the art gallery required special tickets costing 25¢ after the cost of general admission, yet both were regularly mobbed. The Indian Department was so crowded that women visitors penned a humorous complaint:

“Dear Mr. Bierstadt, admirable painter and true patriot: Listen! We do so want to hear the Indians, and the wigwams, and the wampum, and the shuffle dance, and the medicine jig, and to hear the war whoop, and to be scalped; wouldn’t you be so very good as to have the windows opened to your beautiful skin palace, so that we could see you and yet live. We will sacrifice our lives, if it is necessary; but, if not, please let in a little oxygen for our sakes.

“ALL THE LADIES OF YOUR ACQUAINTANCE.”27

An engraving from Harper’s Weekly magazine presents the massed viewers staring raptly at one of the dances, viewed by the illustrator at the back of the tent.

Perhaps the most fascinating display was the Old Curiosity Shop, an enormous jumble of objects from art, history, ethnography, anthropology, science, and fashion, perhaps objects that arrived too late to be strategically placed into a thematic display.28 Laura Wolcott Gibbs (1794-1870), the granddaughter of Connecticut governor and Constitution signer Oliver Wolcott, chaired this committee, and her prestigious network resulted in loans or outright donations of important historical objects. The motley assemblage included Chief Tecumseh’s war club, a medal commemorating the 1825 opening of the Erie Canal, George Washington’s knee buckles, a scene of Henry Clay’s deathbed, donated by Mr. Weir (presumably painter Robert W. Weir [1803-1889], who also donated an album with ten sketches), a spider, rubbings from Shakespeare’s tomb gifted by art critic/taste arbiter Clarence Cook, a Pine Tree shilling, a selection of stones painted by leading American artists, pieces of the Confederate ironclad ship Merrimack, two stuffed frogs, an Egyptian mummy, a souvenir section of the Atlantic cable, a “splendid vase and instrument of torture” lent by Mr. Leutze (presumably painter Emanuel Leutze), a teapot and stand used by Benjamin Franklin, the easel of Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) and his magnificent unfinished portrait of Mrs. Perez Morton (circa 1802, Worcester Art Museum), ad infinitum, up to 600-plus cataloged items.29 A postscript listed a collection of autographs by celebrities, including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Webster, Hamilton, Hancock, Queen Victoria, and other European sovereigns complemented by engravings, photographs, and coins. One waggish writer created a humorous poem-advertisement for the booth:

“When tired of Afghans, with cushions when furious,
Just stop in to see what we have got curious.
We don’t speak of worsteds with envy or pique,
We have china the rarest and gems most antique.
We have Chinese pagodas and idols and vases,
And hats a la mode in all its queer phrases.
We’re a temple of Mammon, for each Japanese,
As well as ourselves, worships wealth on his knees;
We have shells, birds, and beasts; we have reptiles and fishes;
The finest of gems, and the quaintest of dishes,
Brocades that were worn in our grandmothers’ day,
The court dress and robes of Chief Justice Jay,
And most lovely flowers, unrivalled by Flora;
And relics of Franklin, the great Arctic Explorer....”30

The third level of the main fair building housed the Photographic Department, where two prominent photographers, Mathew Brady and J. Gurney & Son, set up shop. The latter churned out carte-de-visite portraits of fair visitors, while the former sold portraits of prominent Civil War officers and popular celebrities.

The Opening of the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair—Bird’s Eye View of Fourteenth Street. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, the New York Public Library.

The Opening of the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair—Bird’s Eye View of Fourteenth Street. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, the New York Public Library.

Stereographs of fair views were created by leading studios, including Bierstadt Brothers, E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., Brady, and Gurney. It is fortunate that a century and a half later, we have such a good visual record of the fair.

Even the Boat-Builders Department was a visual feast, with detailed scale models of steamships, clippers, battleships, and single-occupant boats. Engravings show that the walls were hung with ship paintings, presumably by leading marine artists such as James Buttersworth and the Bard brothers. The Department of Arms and Trophies held not only examples of the most up-to-date weapons but also historical arms and relics from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, and Civil War, including George Washington’s Revolutionary War uniform, sword, and camp chest. Flags, weapons, and ordnance were lent by West Point, by the U. S. Navy Yard in Brooklyn, and by private owners, including P.T. Barnum, artist Emanuel Leutze, and Brigadier General E.L. Viele.31 Two ornate and valuable presentation swords designed and fabricated by Tiffany & Company spurred a hard-fought and widely publicized voting contest as to which gallant Army and Navy officer would win the corresponding donated sword. For $1, visitors could vote for their favorite; General Ulysses Grant won the Army sword, and Vice Admiral Stephen Rowan won the Navy. Frank Leslie, owner of a popular weekly illustrated newspaper, donated 200 sketches by his “special” war illustrators, offered at a table in the booth hosted by General George McClellan’s wife.32

On the evenings of April 19 and 20, the fair’s donated art installed in the grand exhibition gallery, including the two caskets of sketches, was sold at an auction conducted by the portrait painter, fair exhibitor, and Art Committee member Thomas Hicks (1823-1890). Those interested in buying or merely viewing the spectacle were charged 50¢ admission. Without prior notice, a decision was made to bar fair season ticketholders from the event, but still the gallery was thronged. Hicks’s amateur sales efforts and resultant low sales figures the first night were criticized by a newspaper reporter, and this resulted in a confrontation on the second night of the auction, with an episode of hissing.33 The collection of photographs, engravings, and some drawings was sold at a separate auction on April 21, also conducted in the gallery.

In 1864, a time of anxiety, death, disease, economic deprivation, and disunion, New York’s Metropolitan Fair was a much-needed distraction that drew hundreds of thousands of people together in pride of donating, volunteering, performing, creating, viewing, and consuming. Our country’s current climate of anxiety over a pandemic and resultant financial crash is not unlike the nation’s morale in April 1864. Today, antiques and art shows and auctions present objects of beauty, rarity, and scientific and historical importance. Not only is attending shows and auctions and browsing shops a great pleasure and a wonderful distraction for consumers, but sales, promotion, and publishing form a vital part of our economy. Our field has been hard hit by COVID-19 and the national sequestration. It is my sincere expectation that the market for art and antiques will revive and continue—in fact, now is a great time to buy—but certainly web-based platforms will, even more than before, enhance sales, promotion, and education. Let us not forget that the art and antiques trade not only forms a vital part of our economy, but that beauty and history enrich our daily lives in countless ways. I look forward to our safe emergence from our homes and to crossing paths with other Maine Antique Digest readers at a forthcoming show.

War Dance—Indian Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

War Dance—Indian Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

380 Picture Gallery, Metropolitan Fair, N.Y., 1864, Bierstadt Brothers, stereograph. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, the New York Public Library.

380 Picture Gallery, Metropolitan Fair, N.Y., 1864, Bierstadt Brothers, stereograph. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, the New York Public Library.

Interior of Irving Cockloft, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 269.

Interior of Irving Cockloft, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 269.

Book Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

Book Department, from Harper’s Weekly, April 23, 1864, p. 260.

The Metropolitan Sanitary Fair: Mrs. McClellan’s Table in the Department of Arms and Trophies—Sale of Frank Leslie’s Sketches. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, the New York Public Library.

The Metropolitan Sanitary Fair: Mrs. McClellan’s Table in the Department of Arms and Trophies—Sale of Frank Leslie’s Sketches. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, the New York Public Library.

Notes

1. Established in June 1861, the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a federally sanctioned volunteer organization, was founded to support the health and hygiene of Union troops and in so doing to bring high mortality levels under control. The U. S. Sanitary Commission was the precursor to the Red Cross.

2. The first fair was held in Chicago, and the second in Boston. Others were held in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Albany, about two dozen altogether.

3. Metropolitan Fair, in Aid of the United States Sanitary Commission (New York, NY: Charles O. Jones, 1864). See (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t3zs34j44&view=1up&seq=1).

4. Equal to almost $20,000,000 in 2020. See Final Report of the Treasurer and Finance Committee of the Metropolitan Fair... at (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t44q89131&view=1up&seq=5) for a digital copy of the treasurer’s final accounting. Many fair publications have been scanned and are available on the Internet.

5. See “The Great Fair,” Harper’s Weekly, April 2, 1864, p. 210. A collection of some 200 examples of paintings, prints, drawing, and photographs shipped from Germany did not reach New York City until after the fair’s closing and was sold at auction in June.

6. “Items and Incidents of the Fair,” The Spirit of the Fair, April 9, 1864, p. 52.

7. Included in this large collection are correspondence, account books, bills, receipts, donor books, lists of objects and artworks donated to be sold at auction, clippings, photographs, exhibition catalogs, and various printed materials, 1863-64. The complete fair records were turned over to the society once all the accounts were closed.

8. Kensett was overall chair and head of the Men’s Committee, while Mary Sturges, his cochair, headed the Women’s Committee.

9. “Art Exhibition in Behalf of the Metropolitan Fair in Aid of the United States Sanitary Commission,”broadside, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society.

10. See Catalogue of the Art Exhibition at the Metropolitan Fair, in Aid of the U. S. Sanitary Commission (New York, NY: John F. Trow, 1864). Accessed at (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044034920959&view=1up&seq=5).

11. Notably, the important collector of historical and contemporary European art William H. Aspinwall, who had a private gallery in his home, donated a work cataloged as Ecce Homo by Anthony van Dyck. Engravings and published descriptions of the gallery show a group of sculptures displayed at the center end of the gallery, but these were not listed in the exhibition catalog (see note 10) and hence do not contribute to the total of some 360 artworks. The same holds true for engravings and photographs. Furthermore, contributions kept coming in during the fair, so there is no precise total available.

12. Improbably, the Augero painting crossed the auction block in Florida in April 2018.

13. Mathew B. Brady, Recollections of the Art Exhibition, Metropolitan Fair, New York (New York, NY: M. B. Brady, 1864).

14. “Two Black Walnut Caskets, Each Containing 55 Sketches by American Artists, To Be Sold, with other Works of Art, at Auction,” broadside, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society. Raffling was considered a form of gambling.

15. For example, scholars have briefly summarized the participation of John F. Kensett, Frederic E. Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Jasper Cropsey in monographs on those artists.

16. The scrapbook is not paginated, nor do all the clippings include information as to in which publication and on what date the article appeared. Hence proper referencing is impossible.

17. Cropsey’s combined talents in architecture, painting, and interior design are discussed in a biographical essay for the Cropsey catalogue raisonné, accessed at (www.newingtoncropsey.com/documents/JFC%20Biography%20web.pdf).

18. Several versions of the Gilbert Stuart Newton portrait exist, but which one was exhibited at the Sanitary Fair is unclear. W.H. Osborn was the son-in-law of Jonathan Sturges; like Sturges he was an important art patron.

19. Darley executed a detailed drawing of the theme, while Christian Schussele (1824-1879) painted an enormous oil. Mathew Brady helped by providing photographic portraits of every person in the composition. The oil, the drawing, and the resultant engraving made by Thomas Barlow (1824-1889) were put on public display in December 1863 for ticketed holders and buyers of the engraving. See (www.princeton.edu/~graphicarts/2008/01/the_sensation_of_the_day_is_th.html).

20. Some reports claim that the table was lent by Putnam, while others claim that it was to be gifted to Putnam at the fair’s close.

21. The Spirit of the Fair, April 13, 1864, p. 87.

22. “Items and Incidents of the Fair,” The Spirit of the Fair, April 12, 1864, p. 75. It is not known whether the folio or octavo edition of The Birds of America was offered.

23. The book is A Tribute to the Fair: Comprising a Collection of Vers de Société (New York, NY: D. Appleton, 1864). The Peter Marié collection of miniatures resides at the New-York Historical Society. See (www.gutenberg.org/files/45744/45744-h/45744-h.htm#Page_121).

24. The Book of Bubbles, a Contribution to the New York Fair, in Aid of the Sanitary Commission (New York, NY: Endicott & Co., 1864).

25. “The Metropolitan Fair: Opening of the Second Week—The Roman and Other Departments—Receipts Yesterday $42,917,” unidentified clipping in Metropolitan Fair scrapbook, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society.

26. “The Roman Department/Stand No 41,” unidentified clipping in Metropolitan Fair scrapbook, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society. J. & R. Lamb Studios, along with the somewhat later Louis C. Tiffany and John La Farge, were the country’s leading stained-glass artists and ecclesiastical decorators.

27. “LETTER TO MR. BIERSTADT,” The Spirit of the Fair, April 14, 1864, p. 99.

28. See Catalogue of Articles Contained in the Museum and Curiosity Shop of the Metropolitan Fair, April 4th 1864 (New York, NY: Baker & Godwin, 1864). Accessed at (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t5z60xb8f&view=1up&seq=1).

29. Some of the numbers consisted of a group of objects, so there were far more than the 630 listed.

30. “Old Curiosity Shop,” advertisement in The Spirit of the Fair, April 18, 1864, p. 88. The objects in the shop were sold at auction toward the fair’s end.

31. See Catalogue of the Museum of Flags, Trophies and Relics Relating to the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Present Rebellion... (New York, NY: C. O. Jones, 1864). Accessed at (http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hx2nvw&view
=1up&seq=120
).

32. See Frank Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated Newspaper, April 23, 1864, pp. 65-66. Accessed at (www.archive.org/details/franklesliesilluv1718lesl/page/n256/mode/1up).

Also see Catalogue of a Collection of Original Sketches of Battle Scenes and Incidents of the War, Made on the Spot, by the Special Artists of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Paper, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society. The catalog lists 200 sketches. Eight of them were made during the siege of Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and the catalog notes that the illustrator was “then forced into the rebel service.” That artist’s identity is unknown, as artists’ names are not provided with the titles. This points to the risks that the “specials,” as they were called, faced in recording war scenes.

33. “The Metropolitan Fair: Immense Throng Last Evening—Price Admission Friday and Saturday, 25 Cents—Sale of Works of Art—Total Receipts $956,698.00,” unidentified clipping in Metropolitan Fair scrapbook, Metropolitan Fair records, 1863-64, Manuscript Collections, Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the New-York Historical Society.


Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2021 Maine Antique Digest

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