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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.
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.
Jervis McEntee papers, 1796, 1848-1905. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Diaries are available on microfilm reel D180.
Location of Originals:
Reel D9: Originals in the Adirondack Museum, Blue Lake Mtn., New York.
A diary was lent for microfilming in 1964 by the Adirondack Museum and is available on Reel D9.
Jervis McEntee (1828-1891) was a landscape painter from New York, N.Y. Born in Rondout, N.Y.
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.
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.
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001