America's First Public Turner: How Ruskin Sold the Slave Ship to New York

By Scott, Nancy | British Art Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

America's First Public Turner: How Ruskin Sold the Slave Ship to New York


Scott, Nancy, British Art Journal


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It is really a great satisfaction to know that we are at last to have so splendid a specimen of Turner's genius in America.

Charles Eliot Norton to William Tilden Blodgett, 24 January 1872 (1)

It is right that it should be in America, and I am well pleased in every way, and always.

John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, 28 January 1872 (2)

It has long been known that John Taylor Johnston (1820-93) (Pl 1b), first president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was the collector who bought JMW Turner's landmark painting, The Slave Ship, from John Ruskin, and exhibited it for the first time in America (Pl 2). (3) What is under investigation in this study is the sale of this important work, the motive for the transaction, and the reception history of The Slave Ship in New York from the time of its first unveiling in Johnston's private gallery at 8 Fifth Avenue, New York (Pl la), and soon after in the inaugural exhibition of the new Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1872. The public visibility of The Slave Ship upon its arrival in America has not been studied adequately. The hitherto widely accepted assumption, that it was initially hidden from public view because it was in two private collections until 1899, is refuted by numerous sources. A portion of the newly examined material comes from a four-way correspondence, parts of which have never been published.

In fact, the famous Turner painting was on public view in New York City from 11 April 1872 in Johnston's private gallery. His gallery was admittedly open only to a select invited audience, but over two hundred influential guests attended the night of its opening. The debut of the famous work was reported in the press. The canvas was then placed on loan by the middle of May 1872 at the newly opened Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York's first civic art museum, where it became available to a broader public and press commentary.

The presence of Turner's Slave Ship in the Metropolitan Museum's inaugural year exhibition has been missed by most scholars because it was a late addition, hors de catalogue, when the principal works on exhibit were the 'Founding Purchase', 174 paintings of the Dutch and Flemish schools. In addition, prominent critics of the Met's first showing, such as Henry James, writing for the Atlantic Monthly in 1872, focused only on the Old Masters, and did not discuss the two works of art put on view from the John Taylor Johnston private collection. (4) It is to lesser-known figures, such as the artist Christopher Pearse Cranch, and the lawyer George Templeton Strong, that we owe the first written reactions to the appearance of Turner's Slave Ship on American shores. (5)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The testimony of these witnesses, preserved in accounts of the time and, more importantly, in significant correspondence recently discovered in the Metropolitan Museum archives and at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, confirm that The Slave Ship was meant to be the first Turner oil publicly exhibited in the United States. To be sure, there was the painting Staffa: Fingal's Cave (Pl 3), which is properly known as the first Turner painting in America, but it was never a publicly accessible work until 1877, when the Lenox Library opened to a audience admitted by advance ticket only. (6) During the period The Slave Ship was frequently on view either at the Johnston gallery, or in the Met's various loan exhibits from 1872 until 1876, the Staffa in contrast remained at the private home of Colonel James Lenox. Having acquired the Staffa in 1845 through CR Leslie, Lenox himself remarked that his Turner was 'not for the multitude'. (7) In light of The Slave Ship's thematic link to the great issue of the recent sacrifices of the Civil War, slavery, and the painting's advance reputation created by Ruskin's writing, its presence and visibility in America were immediately vigorously debated and discussed by contemporaries. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

America's First Public Turner: How Ruskin Sold the Slave Ship to New York
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.