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Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905

Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905

McEntee, Jervis, 1828-1891

Landscape painter

Letters and family papers of Jervis McEntee in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2007. Diaries scanned from the original microfilm of McEntee's diaries (5 volumes, 1872 to 1890) are temporarily unavailable online except at Archives of American Art offices.

Collection Information

Size: 1.2 linear feet

Summary: The papers of Hudson River School painter Jervis McEntee contain letters from close friends and family members to McEntee and 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 1891 which provide a detailed depiction of the American art world in the 1870s and 1880s.

Biographical/Historical Note

Jervis McEntee (1828-1891) was a landscape painter from New York, N.Y. Born in Rondout, N.Y.

Provenance

The diary on reel D9 was lent for microfilming 1964 by the Adirondack Museum. Many of the letters were donated in 1959 by Charles E. Feinberg, an active donor and friend of AAA. The 5 v. diary was donated 1964 by Mrs. Helen S. McEntee. Additional papers were donated by William Gaffken, director of the insurance company which acquired the McEntee family insurance firm, in 1990 and 1997.

Related Materials

Location of Originals

  • Reel D9: Originals in the Adirondack Museum, Blue Lake Mtn., New York.

A Finding Aid to the Jervis McEntee Papers,
1796, 1848-1905
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.mcenjerv
Finding aid prepared by Ellen Loll
Scope and Content Note
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.
Biographical Note
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.
Arrangement
The Jervis McEntee papers have been arranged into five series, based on material type.
Series 1: Letters, 1850-1905, undated (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Vaux Family Letters and Correspondence, 1850-1890, undated (Box 1; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Third Party Letters, 1861-1873, undated (Box 2; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 4: Miscellany, 1796, 1848-1895, undated (Box 2; 0.1 linear feet)
Series 5: Diaries, 1872-1890 (Box 3-4; 0.6 linear feet)
Provenance
The diary on reel D9 was lent for microfilming 1964 by the Adirondack Museum. Many of the letters were donated in 1959 by Charles E. Feinberg, an active donor and friend of AAA. The 5 v. diary was donated 1964 by Mrs. Helen S. McEntee. Additional papers were donated by William Gaffken, director of the insurance company which acquired the McEntee family insurance firm, in 1990 and 1997.
Location of Originals
  • Reel D9: Originals in the Adirondack Museum, Blue Lake Mtn., New York.
Processing Information
The Jervis McEntee papers were reprocessed in 2004 and a finding aid prepared. At that time all earlier accessions were merged. All of the papers, except for the five diares, were digitized in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The microfilm of the diaries was digitized in 2004, and the papers in 2007 and are available via the Archives of American Art's website.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

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

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