No matter the time or place, one always finds examples of individuals — and families — employing the artist to carefully craft their public images. On view now at the City Museum of New York is an exhibition that explores how 18th- and 19th- century New Yorkers used portraiture as indicators of prestige.
Whether it was an important marriage, an inheritance, a promotion, or simply a fashionable practice among well-to-do New Yorkers, portraiture has always provided a stage upon which to celebrate moments of significance. The outstanding City Museum of New York is showcasing a number of prudently manufactured portraits from the 18th and 19th centuries. “Picturing Prestige: New York Portraits, 1700-1860” is largely drawn from the institution’s permanent collection and gives New Yorkers a chance to learn more about their city’s historical denizens.

George Peter Alexander Healy, “Caroline Slidell Perry Belmont,” ca. 1855, (c) City Museum of New York 2016

Gilbert Stuart, “George Washington,” 1796, (c) City Museum of New York 2016

Much of the work included in the exhibition is by “many of the leading American painters of their day and captures the aspirations of the rising, upstart merchant city as it became the most populous and the most important port in the young country,” the museum suggests. “In addition, the exhibition chronicles the changing nature of portraiture and artistic patronage, and ties together the lives of a group of leading citizens who enjoyed financial and social benefits that were beyond the reach of most New Yorkers.”

Nicholas Biddle Kittell, “Mr. & Mrs. Charles Henry Augustus Carter,” ca. 1845, (c) City Museum of New York 2016

“Picturing Prestige: New York Portraits, 1700-1860” opened on February 5 and will hang through November 18. To learn more, visit the City Museum of New York.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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