The Tenth Street Studio Building

Artist-Entrepreneurs from the Hudson River School

to the American Impressionists

The Broken, Demolished Heart of the World of Painting in New York City

The Parrish Art Museum

Southampton, NY

June 8 to August 10, 1997

The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts

New York

August 21 to November 16, 1997

Catalogue by Annette Blaugrund, 145 pp. with 79 illustrations, 46 in color. $24.95

The Tenth Street Studio Building, 1906,

photograph, The New York Historical Society

By Carter B. Horsley

When I was two months old in 1940, my parents moved from Gramercy Park to an apartment at 20 West 10th Street in Manhattan.

Many years later, my mother told me that she chose Tenth Street not only because it was one of the prettiest streets in the city, but also because it had been "home" to many of the country's greatest artists. Our neighbors in the building included Guy Pene du Bois, a leading art critic and well-known artist, and Louis Bouché, who occupied a large skylight duplex in the building that formerly was rented by Hugh Ferriss, the famous architectural draftsman.

The most famous residence on the street, of course, was the Studio Building at No. 51, a 100-foot-wide, three-story, red-brick structure will a short bridge access across the deep "moat" of its basement well. The handsome, although not pretty building was the middle of the long block and because of its wide frontage was the block's most important individual building. The block, however, was more distinguished by the "English" row of brownstones, designed by James Renwick, on the south side of the street that were united by an attractive, continuous second-story balcony. The building my mother and I lived in was a double-wide brownstone, closest to Fifth Avenue, and when we moved in it had a concierge, red-carpeted stairs, and a large gilded mirror and two staircases in the very large lobby. The concierge, Theresa Wright, is long gone, and the larger staircase, which had been "free-standing," has been enclosed by an apartment.

Other residents of the block, at various times, were Mark Twain, Maurice Evans, the actor, Edward Albee, the playwright, Joseph Mitchell, the New Yorker columnist, Charles Abrams, an urban planner and housing expert, Moira Hodgson, the food critic, Mel Gussow, the theater critic, and Kathleen Turner, the actress. The block, which is anchored by the Ascension Episcopal Church on the north side at Fifth Avenue, also was noted for the Marshall Chess Club and a very handsome women's residence with a wide front garden. Although the eastern portion of the block contains some of the grandest 19th Century townhouses in the Lower Fifth Avenue area, the western third of the block was considerably less distinguished. Nonetheless, the block has been widely regarded as one of the most desirable in Greenwich Village along with, between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas, Ninth, Eleventh and Twelfth Streets, which are more consistent, but slightly less grand.

The units in the Studio Building, which was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, were occupied by such famous artists as Frederick E. Church, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, Sanford R. Gifford, John La Farge and William Merritt Chase. Indeed, its tenant roster over the years included most of the greatest American artists of the 19th Century, and my mother's interest in it was such that she was shocked at the neglect into which the reputations of the artists had fallen and began acquiring paintings by many of its past residents, paintings that, incredibly, were not of much value then. (Fine examples could be bought for about $25 as late as 1951 at the nearby auction houses on University Place and Broadway and paintings that have subsequently been widely reproduced as masterpieces as much as $100.)

A good friend of my mother's, Ann Donohue, lived in the building with Thomas Stevens, who painted the portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and I remember visiting their first-floor studio and the high and wide hallways, which were very impressive though rather mysterious because they were relatively dark and dusty.

The building was demolished in 1956 and replaced by the Peter Warren apartment house, a pleasant but not distinguished red-brick apartment building designed by H. I. Feldman, with raised plant beds along its frontage. The new building has the address of 45 West 10th Street.

Next to the Jefferson Market Courthouse tower, that loomed over Tenth Street on the other side of the Avenue of the Americas, the Studio Building was the most important landmark in Greenwich Village apart from Washington Square and its Washington Arch and Greek-Revival townhouses fronting on the park, and some churches.

Architecturally, its importance was not aesthetic but historic, as it was the first building in the city and the nation to be designed specifically for artists' studios.

Historically, however, its importance was immense as the artistic heart of the nation in the mid- and late-19th Century. This was so because not only did so many important artists maintain studios and residences there, but also because it was designed with a very large center gallery that was the site of many exhibitions and because many of the individual artists exhibited their own works and held "events" in their studios at a time when art galleries and dealers had not yet sprung up all over the city.

The guest curator of this exhibition, which had originally been "developed" for the financially troubled New York Historical Society, and the author of the excellent catalogue, Dr. Annette Blaugrund, is the new director of the National Academy, which is located at 1083 Fifth Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets and to which most 19th century artists/residents of The Studio Building belonged.

The building was erected and opened in 1858 by James Boorman Johnston (1822-1887), whose brother, John Taylor Johnston, became the first president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few years later. "At the time, the romantic notion of a 'brotherhood of artists' was still in the air, and the building, with more than a score of studios, was conceived as a combination think-tank, exhibition space and fraternity house," observed Holland Cotter in an article in The New York Times, July 13, 1997. (Christopher Gray also wrote a long and excellent, as usual, story about the building and the exhibition in The New York Times, May 25, 1997.)

The design of the building, according to Dr. Blaugrund, "was functional and eclectic, differentiating structure from decoration." "The brick facade reflected contemporary French neo-grec style, characterized by such classical details as rondels and consoles but taken out of their original contexts. The rectangular framework was demarcated by pilasters and horizontal belt courses in contrast to the more bombastic ornamentation and mansard roofs found in the Second Empire style popularly used for American banks and hotels. Geometric patterns of red brick interrupted by horizontal stringcourses of brown sandstone between floors made legible the rational principles of planning and design taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris," she continued.

Originally, the facade sported two small balconies but subsequently more were added and demand for the studios was such that an annex was built in 1873 to the west in the same style, but upsetting somewhat the facade's symmetry.

In its early years, the building served as an unofficial headquarters for the second generation artists of the Hudson River School included such artists as Worthington Whittredge, John William Casilear, Jervis McEntee, William H. Hart, Herman T. L. Fuechsel, Regis F. Gignoux, James R. Brevoort, Richard W. Hubbard, Charles Herbert Moore, Homer Dodge Martin, Hendrick Dirk Kruseman Van Elten, James A. Suydam and John Ferguson Weir.

Other famous artists who lived there were Ralph Albert Blakelock, Martin J. Heade, John George Brown, Thomas Waterman Wood, Enoch Wood Perry, George Herbert McCord, Edward Lamson Henry, William Bradford, Seymour J. Guy, Maurice F. H. de Haas, Aaron Draper Shattuck, Francis A. Silva, William Page, Julian Alden Weir, Robert Loftus Newman, William Beard, Emanuel Leutze, John Henry Hill, George Cochran Lambdin, William S. Haseltine and Irving Ramsey Wiles.

The exhibition has about 50 paintings and 100 or so photographs and artifacts from artists associated with the building and it and the catalogue contain much fascinating material about the city's art world in the latter half of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.

As relatively plain as the building's facade was, its interiors were exotic, especially those of Church, Bierstadt and Chase whose far-flung travels gathered in a rich assortment of artistic props and memorabilia.

The flamboyant and dapper Chase, who founded his own art school in Shinnecock near Southampton, has always been dear for the Parrish Art Museum and one of his many large and wonderful paintings of his fabled studio in the building graces the cover of the catalogue.

The main criticism of this show, which is very important for its insights into a significant part of American art history, is that the paintings included do not, by and large, well represent the great talents that passed through and thrived in the Studio Building. Most were selected because they could be documented directly the building, which makes sense, but it is unfortunate that more and better paintings could not have been included.

The demolition of the Studio Building was one of New York's greatest preservation tragedies.

A few other buildings in Manhattan such as Des Artistes on West 67th Street and the Gainsborough on Central Park West later followed the lead of the Studio Building with tall studio apartments, but none could match the history and traditions of The Studio Building.

See The City Review article on exhibition on Washington Square at Berry-Hill Galleries that has extensive information on where many important American artists lived elsewhere in Greenwich Village.

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