Skip to main content

National Arts Club records, 1898-1960

National Arts Club records, 1898-1960

National Arts Club (New York, N.Y.)

Collection Information

Size: 32.25 linear feet

Summary: Records of the National Arts Club, spanning the period 1898 to 1960, document the founding of the organization, and its governance, administration, finances, exhibitions, and social activities. There are large gaps in the records and many of those surviving are incomplete, which can be explained by a 1932 resolution of the Board of Governors that "old files and letters and bills in the storeroom prior to 1922 may be destroyed at the discretion of the Secretary and Treasurer."

Minutes and reports of the Board of Governors and Executive Committee are fairly complete through 1949, but sparse thereafter. Records do not exist for all standing and special committees, and those remaining tend to be concentrated in the early twentieth century.

Correspondence of the officers, for the most part, is routine and relates to administrative matters. Financial records cover the period 1917 to 1950, with a large number of gaps.

A small number of records of the Arts Realty Co. (later known as 15 Gramercy Park, Inc.) are extant. These include lists of stockholders, correspondence concerning mortgage bonds, and minutes.

Membership records, arranged alphabetically, are available for the years 1931 to 1959, and there are rosters arranged by membership category, 1940-1952; in addition, printed membership lists were issued circa 1900-1951.

More than four hundred exhibitions are known to have been held in the galleries of the National Arts Club between 1899 and 1960. Catalogs for 124 National Arts Club exhibitions are available at the Archives of American Art; 69 titles are to be found among the Club's records and an additional 55 were microfilmed previously as parts of other collections. Other exhibition documentation includes printed matter such as invitations, entry blanks, publicity, and photographs (see Appendix A). For some exhibitions, supporting documentation such as correspondence with exhibitors and collectors, sales and consignment records, and shipping receipts have survived. These files are mainly confined to Books of the Year exhibitions, Arts and Crafts/Decorative Arts exhibitions, and a smaller number of exhibitions of Living American Etchers, 1928-1957.

General social events, activities sponsored by Arts Club committees, and special commemorative occasions are documented by invitations, programs, publicity, calendars of events, and photographs. The majority of this material is contained in seventeen scrapbooks, 1898-1940. Programs of the Men's Open Table, 1915-1950, are particularly well documented by the Chairman's correspondence and three volumes containing meeting notices with signatures of members in attendance.

In addition to printed matter relating to exhibitions and events, scrapbooks, 1898-1940, contain general publicity, clippings concerning members, and samples of National Arts Club printed matter such as form letters to the general membership, brochures, ballots, house rules, published membership lists, year books, and the like. Loose printed matter augments that preserved in the scrapbooks. These sources combined provide a fairly complete set of the Bulletin, but the number of year books is small, and there are catalogs of only slightly more than a third of the exhibitions identified.

Photographs, in addition to those recording exhibitions and events, include portraits of governors, officers, distinguished visitors, speakers, and performers; views of Gramercy Park and the interior and exterior of the clubhouse; and works of art in the permanent collection.

Miscellaneous material includes information on the National Arts Club's first home on West 34th Street, and the Tilden Mansion, its current clubhouse on Gramercy Park; histories of the organization; unpublished speeches presented at Club occasions; and copies of legal documents, including the Club's charter and act of incorporation.

Biographical/Historical Note

National Arts Club (founded 1898) was founded by Charles de Kay for purposes of providing exhibition space for types of art not otherwise adequately shown in New York City, publishing and circulating news about the arts, and promoting social relations between artists and art lovers. The Club's focus includes performing and creative arts, as well as the visual arts. The Clubhouse on Gramercy Park, once the mansion of Samuel Tilden, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976; it provides studio space and living quarters for some members, accomodations for visitors, and meeting and office space for organizations with compatible interests.


The National Arts Club donated its records to the Archives of American Art in 1987. Although a limited amount of printed matter was available at various libraries and on microfilm through the Archives of American Art, scholars have not had access to unpublished records of the Club until this time.

A Finding Aid to the National Arts Club Records,
, in the Archives of American Art
Historical Note
The National Arts Club was founded by Charles de Kay, literary and art critic for the
New York Times
who believed there was a need for a club uniting all of the arts. In March of 1898, de Kay called together a number of civic leaders and men prominent in the art world who supported the idea, elected the first officers and incorporated the Club in 1899.
As stated in a circular issued by the Club, its specified purposes were: to promote the mutual acquaintance of art lovers and art workers in the United States; to stimulate and guide toward practical and artistic expression the artistic sense of the American people; to maintain in the City of New York a Club House...for social purposes in connection with the arts; to provide proper exhibition facilities for such lines of art, especially applied and industrial art, as shall not be otherwise adequately provided for in the same City; and to encourage the publication and circulation of news, suggestions and discussions relating to the fine arts.
During its initial months, the National Arts Club operated from a temporary office at 156 Fifth Avenue. In the search for a permanent site, considerable care was taken to select an auspicious location and accommodations, and in 1899 the first clubhouse was opened at 37 West 34th Street in leased quarters renovated expressly for the Club. Within a year, the gallery and restaurant required additional space, and there was a desire to provide overnight quarters for members visiting from out of town. In 1901 the Club created a corporation, Arts Realty Co., which issued shares to members and other investors for the purpose of raising funds to purchase the adjacent property (39 West 34th Street). This end was accomplished, and when it was decided to move the Club to another location, proceeds from the sale of the lease on 37 West 34th Street and the lot next door, augmented by additional funds subscribed by members, enabled Arts Realty Co. to acquire the Tilden Mansion at 15 Gramercy Park in 1905. Construction was begun immediately on a connecting studio tower to the rear (119-121 East 19th Street), designed by architect and Club President George B. Post. Upon completion, the Club bought the property from Arts Realty Co., issuing both First and Second Mortgage Bonds to individual subscribers. The Gramercy Park property has been occupied by the Club since 1906.
A show of American gold and silver work in October 1899 was the first exhibition held at the National Arts Club. Decorative arts, crafts, and industrial arts figured prominently in early exhibitions, as did designs for civic improvements. The monthly exhibition schedule emphasized contemporary American art, but also included some historical shows. Members of the public were admitted without charge to the galleries, where they could view such innovative and important exhibitions as Pictorial Photographs presented by the Photo-Secession (1902) and a group exhibition featuring the works of Robert Henri, William Glackens, George Luks, Arthur B. Davies, and Maurice Prendergast (1904). After about 1907, exhibitions grew more conservative, probably reflecting the personal tastes of Art Committee members rather than a formal opposition of the Club to nonrepresentational art. Increasingly, the exhibition schedule was filled by shows of members' work, the Club's permanent collection (mainly works by artist members, usually given in payment for life membership), the Annual Arts and Crafts exhibitions, Books of the Year exhibitions, and shows organized by various art societies.
In addition to exhibitions, the National Arts Club regularly featured a variety of cultural programs such as concerts, lectures, and dramatic presentations for members and guests. Parties, dinner, dances, and other social activities drew members to the Club, too. During its first years, some artist members expressed dissatisfaction with the high priority given social functions; by 1905, J. Carroll Beckwith, Walter Shirlaw, and Stanford White were among those who had resigned for this reason.
Within the National Arts Club there have been some smaller societies. The earliest of these were The Discus, a short lived dining and debating club, and The Vagabonds, a lunch group of writers, editors, printers and illustrators. The Men's Open Table, founded in 1910, met weekly for more than forty years for dinner followed by a talk, given by a fellow member or an outside, often professional, lecturer. A wide range of topics, not necessarily on the arts, were presented and discussed at the Men's Open Table. The American Institute of Graphic Arts is one of the organizations said to have developed from associations formed and discussions held at the Men's Open Table. A Women's Open Table, patterned after the men's, was established later.
The National Arts Club, unlike many other private clubs founded during the same era, admitted women members from its inception. Throughout its history, the Club's membership has been comprised of artists, musicians, writers, and performers, as well as collectors and supporters of the arts drawn from all parts of the country. Membership peaked at around 1,800 in 1920, declining throughout the Depression and again in the mid-1950s, and remaining at about 600 for the next two decades.
Founding; occupied temporary office at 156 Fifth Ave.
Incorporation; leased clubhouse at 37 West 34th St.; opened first exhibition, American Gold and Silver Work
Constitution adopted
First donations to permanent collection; Arts Realty Co. formed for the purpose of acquiring and financing the adjacent property (39 West 34th St.)
Arts Realty Co. purchased Gramercy Park property (Tilden Mansion) on behalf of NAC; remodeling of clubhouse and construction of studio tower begun
Plan for financing new clubhouse approved; second Mortgage Bonds issued; clubhouse and studio tower occupied; First Annual Books of the Year Exhibition
Annual Members' Exhibition initiated;
began publication
First meeting of Men's Open Table (established 1909)
Essay contest, "A Critical Estimate of the Altman Collection"
American Artists War Emergency Fund Committee issues art stamp
Junior Artist membership category created
Essay contest, "Soul of America"
Works by deceased artist life members deaccessioned from permanent collection; fund for refugee artists established
Clubhouse designated New York City Landmark
Clubhouse designated National Historic Landmark
NAC records donated to Archives of American Art
The records are arranged into the following series:
Series 1: Board of Governors, 1898-1960, undated
Series 2: Administration, 1898-1960, undated
Series 3: Financial Records, 1917-1952
Series 4: Membership, circa 1900-1962
Series 5: Arts Realty Co., 1909-1913, 1945-1956, undated
Series 6: Miscellaneous, 1890-1961, undated
Series 7: Photographs, 1899-1957, undated
Series 8: Printed Matter, 1893-1960, undated
Series 9: Scrapbooks, 1898-1940
The National Arts Club donated its records to the Archives of American Art in 1987. Although a limited amount of printed matter was available at various libraries and on microfilm through the Archives of American Art, scholars have not had access to unpublished records of the Club until this time.
Processing Information
The collection was processed by Catherine Stover in 1989 and 1990 with funding provided by the Smithsonian Institution Research Resources Program.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the collection is available on microfilm reels 4237-4269. The microfilm is available for interlibrary loan.

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

National Arts Club records, 1898-1960. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

  • No downloads available