William Merritt Chase’s vibrant pastel Self-Portrait (c. 1884) appeared in the Art Students League’s first instructors exhibition held during the fall of 1885. The show included about twenty-five pieces, with portraits, a landscape, and charcoal studies by Chase, James Carroll Beckwith, Edwin Blashfield, Kenyon Cox, and J. Alden Weir, five of the nine instructors for the 1885–86 season. In stark contrast to the National Academy of Design’s large juried annuals, the Art Students League shows presented a small serendipitous mix of work that was assembled, hung, and taken down within a week. Not formally curated or documented by a checklist, the exhibition consisted of whatever could be procured and easily transported. In these early shows, instructors often exhibited with other noted American painters. On different occasions, their work appeared alongside black and white photographic reproductions of famous European paintings; paintings and drawings by students of the Munich school; a borrowed portfolio of sketches by French artists; even work by advanced League students. Until the fall of 1892, when the Art Students League moved into the American Fine Arts Society building, none of the ASL’s three rented spaces included a gallery. Instead, work was hung on studio walls, with easels pushed to a corner of the room. No matter the crowds and informality, these functions attracted artists beyond the Art Students League’s circle. Gilded Age critics wrote about them as a measure of progress in American art. “Such exhibitions are most excellent aids to the instruction of students,” according to a reviewer in the Art Interchange, “awakening them to renewed efforts and inspiring them with the possibilties which they too may attain.”
In this year’s exhibition, we welcome three artists into the regular season corps of Art Students League instructors: sculptor Dionisio Cimarelli, who will teach carving, Doug Safranek, who will teach egg tempera, and painter Peter Cox, who is returning to teach anatomy and drawing.
The Instructors Exhibition 2015 September 8–29, 2015 Opening Reception: September 17, 5:30–7:30 p.m. Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery The Art Students League of New York