The Carnegie Institute Museum of Art was established in 1895 by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. One of the first modern contemporary art museums in the United States, its flagship exhibition, the Carnegie International, is recognized as the longest running contemporary exhibition of international art in North America and is the second oldest in the world.
Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was born in Dumfermline, Scotland and migrated to America with his family in 1848. Often regarded as the second-richest man in history behind John D. Rockerfeller, Carnegie built his industrialist fortunes in the steel industry and spent the remainder of his life in support of major philanthropic projects. By the age of 33, he had developed his personal philosophy of philanthropy, which saw it as the responsibility of the wealthy to foster educational opportunities and disseminate the ideals of high culture among all levels of society. In addition to establishing over 2500 free public libraries, in 1895, he provided the funds to build the Carnegie Institute, located in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Carnegie Institute originally maintained three separate departments under the auspices of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Carnegie Museum of Art.
The Carnegie Institute was administered by a Board of Trustees selected by Carnegie, all prominent professional men of Pittsburgh. Within this group, eight men were selected to serve on the Museum of Art's Fine Arts Committee, which was initially granted the final say on gallery affairs. The first Fine Arts Committee was composed of two artists, Alfred Bryan Wall and Joseph Ryan Woodwell, and six businessmen. Among the latter group, John Caldwell, Henry Clay Frick, William Nimick Frew, and David Thompson Watson were also knowledgeable art patrons and collectors. Over time, the Fine Arts Committee's sway over gallery affairs would be measured by the dedication of its various members and tempered by the vision and authority of the Museum's directors, John Beatty and Homer Saint-Gaudens, and the Carnegie Institute Board of Trustees president, Samuel Harden Church.
From 1896 to 1921, John Wesley Beatty (1851-1924) served as the first director of the Museum of Art. A native Pittsburgher and an accomplished silver engraver, illustrator, and painter, Beatty attended the Royal Bavarian Academy in Munich and upon his return to America, made a living as an artist. He also taught at the Pittsburgh School of Design for Women and co-founded a small school of art with fellow local artist George Hetzel. In 1890, while serving as the secretary of the Pittsburgh Art Society, he became the primary organizer of a loan exhibition to be displayed at the opening of the Carnegie Free Library in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In 1895, when the Carnegie Institute trustees began discussing the possibility of a similar loan exhibition for the opening of their new institution, Beatty was contacted and eventually enlisted to take on the task. Upon the success of that exhibition, he was invited to direct the gallery's affairs and served as the Museum of Art's director until his retirement.
Beatty was an enthusiastic supporter of Impressionism, Realism, Tonalism, Symbolism, and the critically acclaimed contemporary art of the 1890s. He also shared Carnegie's vision for the Museum of Art and believed in the educational and uplifting role aesthetic beauty could provide to the general public. Pursuant to the stated goals of Andrew Carnegie, under Beatty's direction the museum began to purchase important contemporary works to add to its chronological collection of "Old Masters of tomorrow" and almost immediately began planning the first of its Internationals.
The Internationals were viewed as the primary means of showcasing the Museum of Art's selection of the best in contemporary American and European painting, thereby elevating its role as an influential cultural institution on a national and international level. Juried monetary prizes would be awarded to the two best works by American artists, additional awards would be offered to artists of all nationalities, and the Museum of Art's purchases for the year would be selected from the exhibition. Certain artists and collectors were tapped to serve as unofficial representatives of the Museum of Art at home and abroad, among them John White Alexander, William Coffin, I.M. Gaugengigl, Walter Shirlaw, and Edmund Tarbell. Many of the most prominent Pittsburgh art collectors were also asked to lend works to the exhibition. While details of the jury and artist selection process, number of representatives, exhibition show dates, and amount and total number of prizes would change over the years, the planning template was set and would remain the same for future Internationals.
Beatty continued to rely on a stable of close friends and confidantes to help smooth over relations with artists, dealers, shipping agents, and galleries alike, relying heavily on John White Alexander and W. Elmer Schofield, in addition to artists Thomas Shields Clarke, Walter Gay, Robert Henri, Frank D. Millet, and critic Charles M. Kurtz. Over time, many of the artists who served on International juries or Foreign Advisory Committees also became reliable friends and advocates of the International, including Edwin Austen Abbey, Edmond Aman-Jean, Edwin Howland Blashfield, William Merritt Chase, Charles Cottet, Kenyon Cox, Charles Harold Davis, Alfred East, Ben Foster, Charles Hopkinson, John la Farge, Gari Melchers, Leonard Ochtman, Irving R. Wiles, and Robert W. Vonnoh.
From 1896 to 1921, the Museum of Art held twenty-one Internationals, with the only exceptions coming in 1906 (construction of the Hall of Architecture, Hall of Sculpture, and Bruce Galleries), 1915 (deference to the San Francisco Panama-Pacific International), and 1916-1919 (World War I). During these years, the scope and administration of the International slowly expanded, though not without growing pains. At the turn of the century, new modernist styles of art that were appearing in galleries across Europe had not yet entered major American museums and the Carnegie Museum of Art maintained this trend. The museum's generally conservative selection policies, combined with criticism regarding the timing of the exhibition and the jury selection process, led to increasingly tense relations with artists, and were only partially resolved by changes made to the format of the International. In spite of these challenges, the Carnegie International retained its reputation as a preeminent venue for contemporary art and awarded top prizes to John White Alexander, Cecilia Beaux, George W. Bellows, Frank W. Benson, Andre Dauchez, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, John Lavery, Henri le Sidaner, Edward W. Redfield, W. Elmer Schofield, Edmund C. Tarbell, Abbot Handerson Thayer, Dwight W. Tryon, and J. Alden Weir.
In addition to the International, Carnegie's mission of bringing cultural and educational opportunities to Pittsburgh was a central priority of the museum's daily operations. Beatty cultivated relationships with fellow museum directors, which allowed for the easy co-ordination and planning of traveling exhibitions benefiting the city. The museum developed educational programs for children and adults, including lectures, gallery talks, Saturday morning classes, fine art extension classes, guided tours, and outreach to local schools. As popular Pittsburgh art societies and clubs formed, the museum also provided meeting and exhibition spaces for groups such as the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, the Art Society of Pittsburgh, the Art Students League, the Garden Club of Allegheny County, and the Junior League.
After more than 25 years of service, Beatty made the decision to retire and put out an informal call for candidates. Being the right man at the right time, in 1921, Homer Schiff Saint-Gaudens (1880-1958) became the Museum of Art's second director.
The only child of American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his wife and artist, Augusta Fisher Homer, Saint-Gaudens frequently traveled abroad and grew up in the company of his parents' wide circle of friends, many of them artists, poets, writers, and performers who frequented the Cornish Artists' Colony. More intimate friends of the family included former students, assistants, and colleagues, the architect Stanford White, and successful artist-couples who resided near the family's Cornish, New Hampshire home, among them Louise and Kenyon Cox, Maria and Thomas Dewing, Florence and Everett Shinn, and Emma and Abbott Thayer.
Homer Saint-Gaudens attended the preparatory school Lawrenceville, graduated from Harvard in 1903, married the artist and suffragist Carlota Dolley (1884-1927) in 1905, and remarried to Mary Louise McBride (n.d.-1974) in 1929. He began his professional career as a journalist and worked as assistant editor of The Critic (1903) and managing editor of Metropolitan Magazine (1905). During those years, he was introduced to a number of the Ash Can school artists, wrote articles on contemporary art, and honed his abilities as a writer. In 1907, Saint-Gaudens took a break from professional editing and began a second career as the stage manager for Maude Adams, the most highly paid and successful stage actress of her day, with a yearly income of over one million dollars at the peak of her popularity. Working in theater and as Adams' manager for over ten years, Saint-Gaudens learned the ins and outs of event promotion and logistics, media coverage, and maintaining diplomatic relations through compromise, ideal skills he would later use in organizing the Carnegie Internationals.
With the United States' entry into World War I, Saint-Gaudens served as the chief of the U.S. Army's first camouflage unit and was awarded the Bronze Star. After his discharge, he managed Adams' 1918 final season and simultaneously helped his mother organize a major retrospective of his father's sculptures. While organizing a section of his father's work for the 1921 International, he was invited to step into the position of assistant director of the Carnegie Museum of Art, and was promoted to the directorship upon John Beatty's retirement.
Throughout his tenure, Saint-Gaudens was able to call upon long-standing family friendships with artists and art patrons to the museum's benefit. His connections to the art world can clearly be seen in his first major stand-alone exhibition, the Garden Club Show (1922). In this, he enlisted the aid of Elizabeth Alexander, wife of John White Alexander, and Johanna Hailman, artist and wife of John Hailman, who reached out to their circle of artists and art collecting friends in search of works appropriate for the show. Their efforts, combined with the relationships Beatty had established with museum directors, galleries, and dealers, as well as Saint-Gaudens' own friendships with Kenyon Cox, Thomas Dewing, Barry Faulkner, and Gari Melchers, resulted in an assemblage of 150 paintings of note. Coming immediately upon the heels of the 1922 International, the show was a resounding success. The exhibition's opening attracted over 300 delegates of the Garden Club of America and the entirety of Pittsburgh high society, settling any concerns regarding his leadership abilities.
As director of the Museum of Art, Saint-Gaudens instituted measures intended to streamline the Internationals and improve diplomatic relations with artists. Though the basic format of the juried exhibition remained the same, his solutions to the complaints many artists raised with the artist invitation, art selection, and jury systems reformed the International's reputation at a critical time. Though he was naturally inclined to appreciate the art and artists he had grown up with, Saint-Gaudens understood the immediate necessity of introducing modernist contemporary art into the museum's exhibitions and galleries. He circumvented the conservative Fine Arts Committee's resistance to the accolades of European modernists by choosing the tamest of the new 'radical' works. Eventually, he balanced the Internationals with a mix of conservative, moderate, and advanced works that appealed to a large range of audiences and increased the status and diversity of the Internationals.
To aid in his reformation of the International, Saint-Gaudens formalized a team of European agents who worked year round to scout artists' studios, recommend suitable art and artists, navigate local politics, arrange local transportation and logistics, and maintain cordial relations with artists abroad. In the spring, Saint-Gaudens would travel to Europe to meet with his agents in person, tour the most promising studios, and meet with artists personally. His team was headed by Guillaume Lerolle, who shared Saint-Gaudens' distinction of being the son of a well regarded national artist, Henry Lerolle. Like Saint-Gaudens, Lerolle was able and willing to call upon longstanding family friendships and networks on behalf of the Museum of Art. The other core members of the team were Ilario Neri (Italy), Arnold Palmer (England), Margaret Palmer (Spain), and Charlotte Weidler (Germany).
From 1922 to 1940, the Museum of Art held seventeen Internationals, with the exceptions coming in 1932 (Great Depression) and 1940 (World War II). After a brief period of change, growth, and experimentation in the early 1920s, the museum eventually settled on a routine of planning the Internationals, arranging for traveling exhibitions, and expanding upon the most popular of their educational programs. In addition to those programs put into place under Beatty's tenure, Saint-Gaudens paved the way for a revamped lecture series featuring visiting critics and traveled as a visiting lecturer himself.
During the 1930s, financial difficulties and increasing political tensions in Europe presented ample challenges to the diplomatic skills of Saint-Gaudens and his agents, and they found themselves increasingly forced to navigate through political minefields presented by the fascist ideologies of Germany and Italy, the chaos of the Spanish civil war, and the eventual outbreak of World War II in Europe. In spite of these challenges, under Saint-Gaudens' direction, the museum remained true to Andrew Carnegie's vision. The International was expanded to accept on average over sixty additional works of art, and at its peak, included art from twenty-one countries. Beginning in 1927, top prizes and recognition were awarded to Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Andre Derain, Raoul Dufy, Karl Hofer, Rockwell Kent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Edouard Vuillard.
Works by Arthur B. Davies, Charles Hawthorne, Edward Hopper, Augustus John, Oskar Kokoschka, Leon Kroll, Ernest Lawson, and William Orpen were added to the museum's permanent collection. And, as under Beatty's tenure, many of the artists selected to serve on the Jury of Award became advocates and friends of the museum, including Emil Carlsen, Anto Carte, Bruce Crane, Charles C. Curran, Daniel Garber, Charles Hopkinson, Laura Knight, Jonas Lie, Julius Olsson, Leopold Seyffert, Lucien Simon, Eugene Speicher, Maurice Sterne, Gardner Symons, Horatio Walker, and Charles H. Woodbury.
The monumental task of establishing the Carnegie Institute Museum of Art and the Carnegie International has left an archival record that is unique and unparalleled in documenting its relations with every aspect of the contemporary art world from the turn of the century through the first forty years of the twentieth century.