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National Academy of Design records, 1817-2012

Historical Note

The National Academy of Design (1825- ) based in New York City, is a tripartite organization consisting of a membership body of artists, a school, and an exhibition program. The Academy was founded in 1825 by a group of professional artists with the mission to promote the fine arts in America through exhibition and education. Originally named the New York Drawing Association, the Academy was the first organization in the United States established and managed by professional artists. Samuel F.B. Morse, the Academy's first president, was influenced by the organization of the Royal Academy in London, which was comprised of professional artist members and elected government council, an art school, and a venue for exhibitions. After unsuccessful negotiations to unite with the American Academy of Fine Arts, the New York Drawing Association reformed as the National Academy of The Arts of Design on January 19, 1826. Among the founders were mostly young artists who became prominent figures in American art, including Frederick S. Agate, Thomas Cole, Thomas S. Cummings, Asher B. Durand, John Frazee, Charles C. Ingham, Henry Inman, Gerlando Marsiglia, Samuel F. B. Morse, Samuel L. Waldo, and Charles Cushing Wright.
The first Academy members were elected in January 1826, and levels of membership were established shortly thereafter. Originally there were four levels of Academy membership: associates, academicians, artists, and honorary corresponding members. The category of artists was eliminated in 1829, and the honorary member category, established to recognize American artists living outside New York, distinguished foreign artists, and patrons and friends of the Academy, was eliminated in 1862 (the constitution was not amended with this change until 1896). Since 1869, the residency requirement for election to active membership was eliminated and membership was opened to all American artists. In 1920, the classification of honorary corresponding member was re-introduced to recognize representatives of other national academies. With the 1997 constitution, the honorary corresponding member classification was again eliminated, and in 1994 the associate category was eliminated.
Artists are proposed for membership by academicians through the membership committee and are elected for life by a sixty percent majority, based on recognized excellence and significant contributions to the field. Procedures and rules for nominating and choosing new academicians changed over the years, as detailed in the constitutions. Associates were at one time required to present a portrait of themselves upon election and academicians were required to provide an additional representative work upon election. With the elimination of the category of associate in 1994, only one representative work is currently required. These works of art become part of the Academy's permanent collection.
The original classes of professional artists were painting, sculpture, architecture, and engraving. These professional classes were modified over the years. In 1936 the engraving class was made more comprehensive, including all of the graphic arts. Watercolor was added as a class in 1943 and was codified in the 1945 constitution. However, the division into five distinct classes started to create difficulties in how specific works of art were to be categorized. In 1981 the council eased the rules regarding separate media classification so that members could submit a work in any medium to the annual exhibitions regardless of the class to which they had been elected. The constitution of 1994 restated four professional classes—painting, sculpture, graphics, and architecture—which were further reduced in the 2011 constitution to two: visual arts and architecture.
Until 2009, the governing body of the Academy was the council. The seven officers of the council were president, vice-president, treasurer, assistant treasurer, corresponding secretary, assistant corresponding secretary and recording secretary, all of whom were required to be academicians. In 2009, a new constitution provided for a board of governors, replacing the council. The five officers of the board of governors are chair, vice-chair, president, vice-president, and treasurer. Only the offices of president and vice-president are required to be held by academicians.
Central to the Academy's mission, the school began with an anatomy lecture for the New York Drawing Association, delivered by Dr. Frederick G. King in November 1825. The first drawing session took place in November 1826 in the Old Alms House at City Hall Park with two academicians and twenty students. In the school's early years, professional artists met with students to draw from plaster casts of antique sculpture in the academic tradition. Both lectures and studio training were central the school's early curricula. Life classes, the practice of drawing from live models, were introduced in 1837, but only to advanced male students. A life class for women was not instituted until 1857, even though women were allowed membership to the Academy since its beginning. Due to financial difficulties at the Academy, the school was forced to move locations and shut down its operations for extended periods. Mounting dissatisfaction and frustration led several students and Lemuel E. Wilmarth, one of the school's leaders and first full-time professional instructor, to leave the Academy in 1875 and form a new school, the Art Students League. While charging tuition was unpopular, the Academy realized that it was necessary to ensure the school's sustainability, and implemented fee structures with varying success over the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th. Eventually, tuition was established by 1951, when the school was reopened at a new location, 5th Avenue and 89th Street.
Exhibitions have always been an important activity for the Academy, even prior to the opening of the National Academy Museum in 1979. Since 1826, the Academy has held annual exhibitions intended to reflect contemporary art currents in America. Any American artist was eligible to submit work to be reviewed by a jury of selection, comprised of academicians. Throughout the 19th century, the annual exhibitions at the Academy were one of the most significant and influential in the country. The selection process for these exhibitions was a critical topic, at times actively discussed in the press, and continually undergoing modification and change. In addition to the Annuals, the galleries of the Academy were often rented or loaned to outside organizations such as the American Watercolor Society, Audubon Artists, and the National Association of Women Artists. The galleries also mounted special exhibitions curated by its members and hosted a certain number of travelling exhibitions organized by other museums or art organizations. The museum, opened in 1979, hosted and presented major exhibitions, many focusing on historic European subjects.
Official Names of the Academy 1825-2017
1825
The New York Drawing Association
1826
The National Academy of The Arts of Design
1828
The National Academy of Design
1997
The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Art
2017
The National Academy of Design
National Academy of Design Meeting, Exhibition, and School Locations
1826
Old Alms House at City Hall Park in lower Manhattan
1827-1830
Chambers Street over the Arcade Baths
1831-1840
Corner of Nassau and Beckman Streets, the Mercantile Library on the third floor of Clinton Hall
1841 to 1849
346 Broadway (at Leonard Street), the third and fourth floors of the New York Society Library
1850-1854
663 Broadway, where the Academy erected a suite of six galleries
1855-1856
548 Broadway (over Dr. Chapin's Church)
1857
663 Broadway
1858-1861
10th Street and 4th Avenue, the upper floor of a building
1861-1863
625 Broadway, the Institute of Art
1865-1899
23rd Street and Fourth Avenue (now Park Avenue South)
1899-1940
109th Street and Amsterdam Avenue; exhibition galleries at 215 West 57th Street
1940-2017
1083 Fifth Avenue at East 89th Street