Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905

A Finding Aid to the Jervis McEntee Papers, 1796, 1848-1905, in the Archives of American Art, by Ellen Loll

Download PDF Version of this page [Download PDF Version]

Funding for the digitization of the microfilm of this collection was provided by the Henry Luce Foundation

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Jervis McEntee was born in Rondout, New York, July 14, 1828. He had early literary and artistic aspirations and studied under Frederic E. Church, who had himself studied under the Hudson River School master, Thomas Cole. McEntee was to maintain a close relationship with Church for the rest of his life. After an unsuccessful stint as a businessman, McEntee settled in New York in 1857 as one of the charter residents of Richard Morris Hunt's Tenth Street Studio Building. Since many of the other occupants were either bachelors or commuters, and since Mrs. McEntee was a lively, sympathetic hostess, the couple became the center of a spontaneous salon frequented by some of the best-known artists, writers, and actors of the time. After his wife died in 1878, McEntee stayed on, an increasingly neglected widower until his death in 1891.

McEntee was identified with the Hudson River School and an accomplished and sensitive painter of autumnal landscapes. He wrote in 1874, "Perhaps what would mark my work among that of my brother artists is a preference for the soberer phases Nature, the gray days of November and its leafless trees." McEntee stood at the center of the interlocking directorate formed by the National Academy of Design, the Century Club, and the Tenth Street Studio Building. In the latter part of the 19th century, these formed a supreme art establishment whose membership was composed of the old guard American artists, such as McEntee's close friends Eastman Johnson, Sanford Gifford, John Ferguson Weir, Worthington Whittredge, and Church, who were fighting an ultimately futile battle against the encroachment of European influences among both artists and collectors.

Return to top

Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of Hudson River School painter Jervis McEntee measure 1.2 linear feet and date from 1796 and 1850 to 1905. Letters from close friends and family members to McEntee include many from his mentor Frederic Edwin Church, and fellow artists Samuel Putnam Avery, George Henry Boughton, Sanford Gifford, Richard Henry, Eastman Johnson, Elizabeth B. Stoddard, John Ferguson Weir, Worthington Whittredge, and others. Papers relating to the McEntee family include obituaries, a family genealogy, and letters from and regarding family members. There are also papers relating to the Vaux family (McEntee's brother-in-law's family) and American architect and landscape artist Calvert Vaux, who designed a studio for McEntee. Of special significance are five volumes of diaries dating from 1872 through 1890 which provide a detailed depiction of the American art world in the 1870s and 1880s.

The diaries provide a vivid, accurate impression of the life of a typical New York painter during and after the Gilded Age. There is much first-hand information on the inner workings of the National Academy and the Century Club, on the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, on efforts to revive the Art Union idea, on the vigorous growth of art societies and exhibitions throughout the country. The diaries reveal the economy of art during the period - prices, patterns of collecting and patronage, the artists' dependence on personal contacts through clubs, social gatherings, and influential friends. Descriptions of major events include the opening of the Metropolitan Museum and of the Brooklyn Bridge, the first major exhibition of French Impressionism in New York ("simply absurd, foolish and unlovely from any point of view"), and the Beecher-Tilton scandal.

McEntee's diaries offer researchers a valuable view of the everyday existence of a reputable American artist towards the close of the 19th century - how he painted, whom he associated with, how and to whom he sold his work, what he did when he was not working, what he thought of art, artists, and collectors. McEntee provides an account of the ultimately futile battle against the encroachment of European influences among both artists and collectors during this period. He writes in March 1877, "The Munich students work prevails, and the genuinely American productions are put aside to give prominence to the foreign looking art." According to McEntee, a certain painting by Whistler depicts "a woman dead or drunk by what is apparently the seashore, strewn with fragments of stale pound cake." The diaries also offer some clear insights into the character of several major artists who were McEntee's intimate friends: "Whittredge came to my room and sat until midnight and we talked, or rather he did for Whittredge generally does the talking." He is astonished to receive an invitation to join the Frederic E. Churches at the theatre because "I thought they only went to prayer meetings."

The five volumes of diaries are filled with McEntee's detailed thoughts, observations, activities, and encounters. Long passages describe his overwhelming anxieties over money and family difficulties. He is frequently lonely and depressed and always worried about his status as an artist.

The microfilm of the Jervis McEntee Diaries has been digitized and is available on the Archives' website.

Arrangement and Series Description

The Jervis McEntee papers have been arranged into five series, based on material type.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following index terms:

  • Anthony, A. V. S. (Andrew Varick Stout), 1835-1906
  • Baker, George Augustus, 1821-1880
  • Bellows, Henry W. (Henry Whitney), 1814-1882
  • Boardman, Andrew
  • Booth, Edwin, 1833-1893
  • Boughton, George Henry, 1834-1905
  • Butler, Benjamin F., 1830-1884
  • Casilear, John William, 1811-1893
  • Century Association (New York, N.Y.).
  • Chapin, E. H. (Edwin Hubbell), 1814-1880
  • Church, Frederic Edwin, 1826-1900
  • Church, Isabel
  • Cropsey, Jasper Francis, 1823-1900
  • DeForest, H. G.
  • Derrenbacher, John
  • Donoho, J. R., Mrs
  • Gifford, Sanford Robinson, 1823-1880
  • Gray, Henry Peters, 1819-1877
  • Hart, William McDougal, 1823-1894
  • Hicks, Thomas, 1823-1890
  • Hubbard, Richard William, 1816-1888
  • Huntington, Daniel, 1816-1906
  • Husted, James W.
  • Inness, George, 1825-1894
  • Johnson, Eastman, 1824-1906
  • Jourmans, E. L., Mrs
  • Kensett, John Frederick, 1816-1872
  • Lang, Louis, 1814-1893
  • McEntee, James S.
  • Meeks, Louisa B.
  • National Academy of Design (U.S.).
  • Palmer, Erastus Dow, 1817-1904
  • Sawyer, C. M.
  • Shumway, Henry Colton, 1807-1884
  • Stoddard, Richard Henry, 1825-1903
  • Stone, William O. (William Oliver), 1830-1875
  • Stribling, C. K.
  • Sykes, Charles W.
  • Thompson, Launt, 1833-1894
  • Vaux, Calvert, 1824-1895
  • Von Glumer, Francisca
  • Ward, John Quincy Adams, 1830-1910
  • Weir, John F. (John Ferguson), b. 1841
  • Whittredge, Worthington, 1820-1910
  • Wickes, E. T.
  • Youmans, Kate
  • Zarnnhus, E. L.
  • Adirondack Mountains (N.Y.)
  • Art, Modern--19th century--New York (State)--New York
  • Artists' studios
  • Artists--New York (State)--New York
  • Bull Run (Va.), 1st Battle, 1861
  • Diaries
  • Hudson River school of landscape painting
  • Lake Champlain (N.Y.)--Pictorial works
  • Lake George (N.Y.)--Pictorial works
  • Landscape painters--New York (State)--New York
  • Painters--New York (State)--New York
  • Sketches


The collection was acquired from several donors between 1959 and 1997. Letters were donated in 1959 by Charles E. Feinberg. The five volumes of diaries were donated in 1964 by Mrs. Helen S. McEntee. The remaining papers were donated by William Gaffken, director of the insurance company that acquired the McEntee family insurance business.

Separated and Related Materials

A diary was lent for microfilming in 1964 by the Adirondack Museum and is available on Reel D9.

How the Collection was Processed

The Jervis McEntee papers were reprocessed in 2004 and a finding aid prepared. At that time all earlier accessions were merged. Also in 2004, reel D180 of the microfilm of the five volumes of diaries was digitized. The remainder of the collection was digitized in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Jervis McEntee papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The papers of Jervis McEntee in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007, including 915 images scanned from the original documents, and 1654 images scanned from microfilm of McEntee's diaries (5 volumes, 1872 to 1890), which were scanned in 2004. Online access to the diaries is available through the Jervis McEntee Diaries website.

How to Cite this Collection

Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Return to top

Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Letters, 1850-1905, n.d.
0.2 Linear feet; Box 1

Letters in this series are from McEntee's close friends and family members, including his mentor Frederic E. Church, fellow artists Samuel Putnam Avery, Andrew Boardman, Sanford Gifford, Daniel Huntington, George Inness, Eastman Johnson, John Ferguson Weir, Worthington Whittredge, and numerous others.

Box Folder
1 (hol) 1 First Name Only, 1861, 1878
1 (hol) 2 Anthony, Andrew Varick Stout, 1870
1 (hol) 3 Avery, Samuel Putnam, 1873
1 (hol) 4 Baker, George A., 1873
1 (hol) 5 Bellows, Henry W., 1878
1 (hol) 6 Boardman, Andrew, 1878
1 (hol) 7 Boughton, George Henry, 1871, 1890
1 (hol) 8 Butler, Benjamin Franklin, 1878
1 (hol) 9 Chapin, E.H. (Edwin Hubbell), 1867
1 (hol) 10 Church, Frederic Edwin, 1873, 1878, 1890
1 (hol) 11 Church, Isabel, n.d.
1 (hol) 12 Cook, Martha Walker, 1873
1 (hol) 13 Darley, Jenny G., 1888
1 (hol) 14 De Forest, H.G., 1878
1 (hol) 15 Derrenbacher, John, 1861
1 (hol) 16 Donoho, Mrs. J.R., 1878
1 (hol) 17 Fitch, John, 1873, n.d.
1 (hol) 18 Gifford, Sanford Robinson, 1860, 1862-1863, 1870-1879, n.d.
1 (hol) 19 Hicks, Thomas, 1878
1 (hol) 20 Hubbard, Richard William, 1861
1 (hol) 21 Huntington, Daniel, 1878
1 (hol) 22 Husted, James W., n.d.
1 (hol) 23 Inness, George, n.d.
1 (hol) 24 Johnson, Eastman, 1862, 1865-1884, 1889-1890, n.d.
1 (hol) 25 Jones, Alfred, 1873
1 (hol) 26 Long, Louis, 1873
1 (hol) 27 McEntee, Gertrude (Mrs.-wife), 1861, 1868
1 (hol) 28 McEntee, Girard L. Jr., 1905
1 (hol) 29 McEntee, James S., 1861
1 (hol) 30 McEntee, Jervis (letters from Jervis to sister Mary Vaux), 1868, 1880-1881
1 (hol) 31 McEntee, Maurice, 1861, 1873
1 (hol) 32 McEntee, Mrs. (Jervis's Mother), n.d.
1 (hol) 33 Meeks, Louisa, 1878
1 (hol) 34 Osgood, J.R., 1873
1 (hol) 35 Richards, T. Addison (Thomas Addison), 1878
1 (hol) 36 Stedmen, Edmund and Laura, 1878
1 (hol) 37 Stoddard, Elizabeth B., n.d.
1 (hol) 38 Stoddard, Richard Henry, 1870
1 (hol) 39 Stribling, C.K., 1850
1 (hol) 40 Sykes, Charles W., 1878
1 (hol) 41 Taylor, Marie, 1879
1 (hol) 42 Thompson, Launt, 1861, 1865, 1873, 1878, n.d.
1 (hol) 43 Von Glumer, Francisca, ca. 1890
1 (hol) 44 Ward, John Quincy Adams, n.d.
1 (hol) 45 Weir, John F. (John Ferguson), 1866-1867, 1873, 1878, 1889-1890
1 (hol) 46 Whipple, M.J., 1873
1 (hol) 47 Whittredge, Worthington, 1865-1891
1 (hol) 48 Wickes, E.T., 1878
1 (hol) 49 Youmans, Kate, 1867-1868
1 (hol) 50 Zarnnhus, E. L., 1899
1 (hol) 51 Unidentified, n.d.

Series 2: Vaux Family Letters and Correspondence, 1850-1890, n.d.

Series Two includes letters from McEntee's sister Mary Vaux's family and her husband, American architect and landscape artist Calvert Vaux. This series relates largely to family matters, including letters from Vaux's mother, wife, brother Alfred, sisters Emily and Catharine, and children.

Box Folder
1 (hol) 52 First Name Only, 1867-1868, 1871, n.d.
1 (hol) 53 Blood, Alfred J., 1859
1 (hol) 54 Brickwood, J.D., 1867
1 (hol) 55 Browne, Lillian G., n.d.
1 (hol) 56 Gifford, Mary, n.d.
1 (hol) 57 Olmstead, Mary C., 1864
1 (hol) 58 Stryker, Helen B., 1881
1 (hol) 59 Taylor, John N., 1868
1 (hol) 60 Vaux, Alfred, 1850, 1851
1 (hol) 61 Vaux, Calvert, circa 1854-1855, 1866, n.d.
1 (hol) 62 Vaux, Calvert Bowyer, 1866
1 (hol) 63 Vaux, Downing, 1868-circa 1880
1 (hol) 64 Vaux, Emily Brickwood, 1855-1871
1 (hol) 65 Vaux, Marion, 1881
1 (hol) 66 Vaux, Mary McEntee, 1854, 1868, 1878
1 (hol) 67 Williams, Emily, 1856
1 (hol) 68 Withers, Catherine, 1868, n.d.
1 (hol) 69 Unidentified, 1860, 1881-1890, n.d.

Series 3: Third Party Letters, 1861-1873, n. d.

Series Three houses third-party correspondence, largely letters addressed to Mrs. McEntee, Jervis' wife. Some writers include Girard McEntee, Maurice McEntee, and Alice Sawyer.

Box Folder
2 (pam) 1 Gray, T., 1873
2 (pam) 2 Holland, J. G., 1873
2 (pam) 3 McEntee, Girard L., ca. 1861
2 (pam) 4 McEntee, Maurice, 1862
2 (pam) 5 Sawyer, Alice, 1873
2 (pam) 6 Smith, M., 1862
2 (pam) 7 Tompkins, Augusta McEntee, n.d.
2 (pam) 8 Tompkins, Laura, 1871
2 (pam) 9 Vanderlip, George M., 1873
2 (pam) 10 Unidentified, 1864-1865

Series 4: Miscellany, 1796, 1848-1895, n.d.

The fourth series houses scattered printed materials, manuscripts and writings, and several pages from McEntee's sketchbook. Family obituaries and genealogical material are also found in this series.

Box Folder
2 (pam) 11 Calvert Vaux's "Villages and Cottages,," 1850, 1870, 1889
2 (pam) 12 List, n.d.
2 (pam) 13 Manuscript "Sketch of John Vanderlyn's Life,," 1796
2 (pam) 14 Material Concerning Calvert and Mrs. Vaux, 1848-1895
2 (pam) 15 McEntee Family Genealogies, n.d.
2 (pam) 16 Obituaries, 1891
2 (pam) 17 Pages from Jervis McEntee's Sketchbook, 1863
2 (pam) 18 Printed Material, 1877-1878, n.d.
2 (pam) 19 Unidentified Photographs, n.d.
2 (pam) 20 Vaux/Brickwood Genealogy, 1869

Series 5: Diaries, 1872-1890

Series Five consists of the five volumes that compose the Jervis McEntee Diaries. The earliest entry in the diaries is dated May 10, 1872 and the latest is November 1, 1890. McEntee discusses a wide range of topics, including his role in the National Academy of Design, other artists and collectors, as well as his travels and personal relationships with family members. The diaries offer intimate insight into the art world of New York City in the late 19th century, particularly detailing the struggle between the Design's old guard and the influences of modern and avant-garde painting in Europe. There is one final entry in an unknown hand dated 1891 noting McEntee's death

3-4 (sol) Diaries, 1872-1890, (5 vols.)
See the Jervis McEntee Diaries Guide for digitized diaries and transcripts.