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Macbeth Gallery records, 1947-1948, bulk 1892-1953

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Stephanie Ashley, Erin Corley, and Jetta Samulski
Scope and Contents
The Macbeth Gallery records provide almost complete coverage of the gallery's operations from its inception in 1892 to its closing in 1953. The records document all aspects of the gallery's activities, charting William Macbeth's initial intention to lease his store "for the permanent exhibition and sale of American pictures" through over sixty years of success as a major New York firm devoted to American art. The collection measures 131.6 linear feet and dates from 1838 to 1968 with the bulk of the material dating from 1892 to 1953.
The gallery's correspondence files form the core of the collection and illuminate most aspects of American art history: the creation and sale of works of art, the development of reputations, the rise of museums and art societies, change and resistance to change in the art market, and the evolution of taste. Ninety-five feet of correspondence house substantial and informative letters from dozens of important American painters and sculptors, including older artists and younger contemporaries of the gallery in its later years. There are also letters from collectors, curators, other galleries, and critics.
The financial files found in the collection offer insight into the changing economic climate in which the gallery operated. They include information ranging from the details of individual sales and the market for individual artists, to consignment activities and artist commissions, to overviews of annual sales. This information is augmented by the firm's inventory records and the photographs of artwork with their accompanying records of paintings sold. The inventory records provide details of all works of art handled by the gallery, both sold and unsold, and the buyers who purchased them; the photographs of artwork include images of artwork sold with accompanying sales information.
The highlight of the gallery's printed material is the publication Art Notes. Although published only until 1930, Art Notes provides an excellent and detailed view of the gallery's exhibition schedule and the relationship of the gallery owners with many of the artists whose work they handled. It was a house organ that also provided a running commentary on events in the art world. The gallery's 19 fragile scrapbooks, maintained throughout the firm's history, provide further coverage of activities through exhibition catalogs and related news clippings. Printed material from other sources provides a frame of reference for activities in the art world from the mid-19th to the mid-20th-centuries and includes an almost complete run of the rare and important pre-Civil War art publication The Crayon.
Reference files record the interest which the gallery owners took in the work of early portrait painters and in later artists such as George Inness and Winslow Homer. Together with the immense volume of correspondence with buyers and sellers of paintings by the great portraitists and the Hudson River School found in the gallery's correspondence files, these records are still useful sources of information today and underscore the deep interest that the Macbeths and Robert McIntyre took in 18th and 19th-century American art.
The photographs of artists found here are a treasure trove of images of some of the major figures of the 19th and 20th-centuries. There are photographs of artists such as Chester Beach, Emil Carlsen, Charles Melville Dewey, Frederick Carl Frieseke, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, George Inness, Maurice Prendergast, and Julian Alden Weir, many of them original prints and the majority of them autographed.
With the exception of the "The Eight" and a few of their contemporaries, an important aspect of art history, the modernist movement, is generally represented in the Macbeth Gallery records only in a negative form as the three successive proprietors of the gallery showed very little interest in this area. Nevertheless, the collection is a highly significant source of information on many of the major and minor figures in American art in the period after 1890.
The bulk of the Macbeth Gallery records were donated and microfilmed in several installments between 1955 and 1966 by Robert G. McIntyre and Estate. Additional Macbeth Gallery printed material was donated by Phoebe C. and William Macbeth II, grandchildren of William Macbeth, in 1974.
Related Material
Among the holdings of the Archives of American are a small collection of scattered Robert McIntyre's papers and 9 items of William Macbeth's papers. Macbeth Gallery exhibition catalogs are also available in the American Art Exhibition Catalog collection and the Brooklyn Museum Records, both loaned and microfilmed collections.
An extensive collection of Macbeth Gallery exhibition catalogs are also held by the Frick Art Reference Library and the Watson Library of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Getty Grant Program. Digitization of the scrapbooks was supported by a grant from the Smithsonian Institution Women's Committee. Correspondence, financial and shipping records, inventory records, and printed material were digitized with funding provided by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Walton Family Foundation.
Processing Information
The records were partially filmed in the order in which they were received on microfilm reels NMc1-NMc81, 439-441, 2564-2667, 3091-3092, 3094, and 2820-2823. All portions were merged and arranged according to archival standards by Stephanie Ashley, Erin Corley and Jetta Samulski in 2003 and 2004. The archival arrangement does not match the order of the microfilm.
The scrapbooks in Series 5 were digitized in 2005. The digitization of Series 1.1: Correspondence, Series 2: Financial and Shipping Records, Series 3: Inventory Records, and the publication Art Notes, was initiated in 2017.