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Prints issued by
The American Art Union

Distribution of American Art-Union Prizes 1847


The American Art Union (AAU) is well known today for the thirty-six engravings it published based on the paintings of some of the most luminous names in American art, including George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, F.O.C. Darley, R.C. Woodville, Asher B. Durand, and William Sidney Mount. The association is especially important for the seminal role it played in stimulating American art and for spreading an awareness of this art throughout the country. As growth boomed in the American economy and on its Western frontier, artists and art dealers began to notice a decided lack of growth in the national arts. Borrowing a page from German and English art societies, gallery owner James Herring founded the Apollo Art Association in 1839, the organization which would later morph into the American Art Union.

Gathering funds by subscriptions, the Union purchased and then redistributed paintings and engravings, creating a structure that made high art accessible to the middle class. For a small membership fee, participants would receive an annual members' engraving as well as a chance at the lottery of paintings and prints purchased with AAU funds. Based in Manhattan, the American Art Union also kept an open gallery, which drew large numbers of visitors keen to see the paintings advertised. In addition to issuing annual subscription prints, the AAU commissioned three medals commemorating important American artists including Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Washington Allston. These and other goings-on of the organization were reported to members in the AAU Bulletin, published once or twice annually. With its gallery and thousands of subscribers, the AAU probably had more than any other force to do with the success of many of America's nineteenth century artists and the popularization of their work. The legacy of the American Art Union is immense, best exemplified today in the thirty-six engravings it published based on the paintings of some of the most luminous names in American art, including George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, F.O.C. Darley, R.C. Woodville, Asher B. Durand, and William Sidney Mount.

Farmers Nooning
William Sidney Mount. "Farmers Nooning." New York: Apollo Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in the U.S., 1843. Engraved by Alfred Jones. Printed by George S. Appleton. 12 5/8 x 16. Very good condition. $1,600

Francis William Edmonds. "Sparking." New York: American Art-Union, 1844. Engraved by Alfred Jones. 12 7/8 x 16 7/8. With hand color. $1,200
A second copy, uncolored. $1,200

Durand: Capture of Major Andre
Asher B. Durand. "The Capture of Major Andre." New York: American Art Union, 1846. 13 x 17 3/4. Figures engraved by Alfred Jones; landscape engraved by James Smillie & Hinshelwood. Large margins. Later hand color. Very good condition. Ref.: Mann, p. 42.

By mid-nineteenth century the story of John Andre's arrest as a spy in the Benedict Arnold treason plot had reached mythic proportions along with the deification of Washington and Horatio Alger fiction. The plans for West Point were found in the British officer's boot. Andre had offered his captors a bribe, but as American patriots, the three irregulars refused and turned him in to the American army. Later debunkers of American history would say they were ruffians and Andre had not offered them enough, but at this time, 1846, the capture was a lesson in patriotism. $1,200

Felix Octavius Carr Darley. "Illustrations of Rip Van Winkle." New York: American Art-Union, 1848. Set of six etched plates. A few very light spots; overall very good condition.

Born in Philadelphia, Felix Darley was one of America's first well known illustrators. He worked in both Philadelphia and New York before eventually settling in Claymont, Delaware. There he worked for the next nineteen years producing drawings for prints, magazines, and more than 200 books. These included best-selling works by such prominent authors as Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Plate 1; Plate 2; Plate 3; Plate 4; Plate 5; Plate 6. $250

Felix Octavius Carr Darley. "Illustrations of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."New York: American Art-Union, 1849. Set of six etched plates. With original (though very worn) covers.

Plate 1; Plate 2; Plate 3; Plate 4; Plate 5; Plate 6. $200

Ann Page, Slender and Shallow
"Ann Page, Slender and Shallow." New York: American Art-Union, 1850. Engraved by Charles Burt. Printed by James Dalton. 16 1/8 x 20 1/4. Three light spots in margin. Three tiny abrasions in image. Overall, very good condition. $650

Dover Plains
Asher Durand. "Dover Plains." New York: American Art-Union, 1850. Engraved by James Smillie. 6 7/8 x 10 3/8. Time toned, else very good condition. $750

Dream of Arcadia
Thomas Cole. "Dream of Arcadia." New York: American Art-Union, 1850. Engraved by James Smillie. Printed by W.E. Smith. 6 1/2 x 10 1/2. Paper lightly toned. Overall, very good condition. NA

The New Scholar
F.W. Edmonds."The New Scholar." New York: American Art-Union, 1850. Engraved by Alfred Jones. 7 1/4 x 10 1/4. $750

Mount: Bargaining for a  Horse
William Sidney Mount. "Bargaining for a Horse." New York: American Art-Union, 1851. Engraved by Charles Burt. 7 3/4 x 10. Very good condition. $1,200

Mount Washington From the Valley of Conway
John F. Kensett. "Mount Washington. From the Valley of Conway." New York: American Art-Union, 1851. Engraved by James Smillie. 7 x 10 3/8. Repaired tear (1 3/4 long in lower margin, to the left of the title.). Overall, very good condition. $750

Prints After AAU Images

Coming to the point
William Sydney Mount. "Coming to the Point." New York: William Schaus, 1855. 19 1/4 x 23. Lithograph by Soulange Tessier, Paris. Superb original hand color. Small (1/2 x 1/8) repaired hole in top margin and a few very short tears at edges. Otherwise, excellent condition.

A wonderful image after a painting by William Sidney Mount. Mount (1807-1868) was the first important American genre painter. He spent most of his life on Long Island, where he recorded his observations of local daily life in a large number of charming portraits, landscapes and genre scenes. In the mid-nineteenth century, a number of the better American artists, including Mount and George Caleb Bingham, had images made of their paintings to be sold as separate prints. An important source of support for native-born American artists, such prints were also key tools in the dissemination of 'fine art' to the general American public.

Goupil, Vibert & Company was a very large print publisher and art dealer in Paris. In 1847, the firm sent William Schaus to New York to open an American branch and to set up an International Art Union which would compete with the American Art Union. Mount, who was displeased with the American Art Union, struck up a friendship with Schaus, and the printer eventually arranged issue of ten of Mount' paintings as large color lithographs: seven were published by Goupil and three by Schaus himself after he left Goupil. This print is a second version of Mount's earlier "Bargaining for a Horse." Both images exemplified a favorite American myth, the witty triumph of the hayseed over the city-slicker. The quality of this print, lithographed by the best craftsmen in Europe, is excellent -- one of the finest examples of American genre art. $7,500

Voyage of Youth
Thomas Cole. "Voyage of Life-Youth." New York: American Art Union, 1850. 15 1/2 x 22 3/4 (image). Engraving by John Smillie. Wide margins with light soiling in margins. Excellent impression. Overall, very good condition. Ref: Thomas Cole. One Hundred Years Later. A Loan Exhibition. Boston and New York: Wadsworth Athenæum and Whitney Museum of American Art, 1949. Matthew Baigell, Thomas Cole. New York, 1981.

Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is known as the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting and produced primarily realistic and imaginary landscapes. Samuel Ward commissioned Cole to paint a set of four allegorical paintings in 1839. These four prints, engraved after Cole's paintings, depict the stages of life from birth to death. Cole's inspiration may have come from a sermon by Reverend Reginald Heaver referring to "life [which] bears on us like the stream of a mighty river."

In 1849, Smillie engraved "Youth" for the American Art Union (1839-1851), an organization created to support and develop popular appreciation of American art by issuing prints engraved after paintings which the organization owned. The favorable reception of this print led Smillie to engrave the three other voyages and issue the four print set in 1855. This image shows the man just beginning to depart from his guardian angel, before he begins to deal with the difficult currents of manhood through appeal to God. $1,200

Crosby Opera House Art Association

Modeled after the American Art Union, the Crosby Opera House Art Association was conceived in an effort to pay off debts incurred by Uranus H. Crosby in the building of his elegant Opera House on Washington Street in Chicago. The estimated costs were much lower than the actual ones, primarily due to the "enhanced value of materials and labor" during the Civil War, according to Crosby's prospectus for the lottery. A total of 210,000 shares or certficates of membership were issued, at a price of $5 each, with increasingly desirable premiums for holders of multiple shares. Awards of premiums were made at the Opera House on October 1, 1866. A financial success, the lottery brought Crosby a profit, and he was able to buy back the Opera House from the shareholder to whom it was awarded for a payment of $200,000. The Opera House thrived for a few years, and was about to reopen in October 1871 after renovations, when it was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire.

Faed: The Little Wanderer
Thomas Faed. (1826-1900) "The Little Wanderer." Chicago: Crosby Opera House Art Association, 1866. 16 1/4 x 23 3/4. Steel engraving by Christian Rost. Printed by W. Pate, N.Y. Some chips at extreme edges of margins; tide mark at bottom margin, into publication line, but still legible. Else excellent condition.

This fine engraving was made by Rost after Faed's painting, "The Mitherless Bairn," which was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, in 1855, where it achieved a notable popularity. The painting shows an idealized incident from Faed's early years: a small child pretending to be orphaned, has imposed on the family. In spite of having been treated and fed well while in their care, his behavior devolves, and it becomes known that he is no orphan, but in fact the child of two well known tramps.

Thomas Faed, born in Scotland, was one of five siblings who became accomplished artists. Credited for popularizing Scottish art to a degree similar to the way Robert Burns' works did for Scottish song, Faed painted for most of his life, to great acclaim.

This print was one of two premium options for single shareholders of the Crosby Opera House Art Association, an elaborate lottery to pay off the cost overruns caused by war shortages. Uranus H. Crosby built his famous Italianate Opera House on Washington Street, between State & Dearborn in Chicago. While the lottery was a great success, the structure was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. $450


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