The Italian Presence in American Art, 1860-1920

By Irma B. Jaffe | Go to book overview

16. The Old Boy Network in Rome
Tenth Street Studio Artists Abroad

ANNETTE BLAUGRUND, The New-York Historical Society

Americans are as plentiful here as ants in an ant hill . . ." Frederic Edwin Church wrote to his friend and patron William Henry Osborn on January 23, 1869. "From the studio building we have represented in Rome-- McEntee--Gifford--Thompson--Weir--Hazeltine [sic]--Church, six, part of them have no studios, but are here to see and travel." 1 After the Civil War, large numbers of American artists hurried across the Atlantic to Europe. Indeed, between 1867 and 1869 more than the six artists Church mentioned had temporarily abandoned the comfort and security of the Tenth Street Studio Building, that popular New York enclave of Hudson River School painters. 2 Albert Bierstadt was another tenant of the Tenth Street Studios who visited Rome at the end of the 1860s. Many of these men were accompanied by their families who went to sightsee, while they traveled to gather new material for paintings and to work on commissions.

Church was not the only one to bear witness to the large number of Americans in Rome at the end of the 1860s. Bayard Taylor, the noted traveler and writer, counted 1,200 Americans there in March 1868. 3 In 1869 David Maitland Armstrong, the newly appointed American Consul to the Papal States at Rome, noted that "Rome was the Mecca of American artists," naming, among others, Elihu Vedder, Charles Caryl Coleman, Charles Dix, George H. Yewell, George Inness, John Rollin Tilton, and George Peter Alexander Healy. 4 Some of these men, Vedder and Coleman, for example, were permanent expatriates. But this essay will be concerned only with those artists associated with the Tenth Street Studio Building, and will examine their cultural and social activities in Rome as a barometer of American artistic experiences in Italy.

A number of Tenth Street artists had been to Italy before the 1860s. In the 1850s, while studying in Düsseldorf, Worthington Whittredge, Albert Bierstadt, Emanuel Leutze, and William Stanley Haseltine had journeyed to Italy, linking up with Sanford R. Gifford along the way. Tenth Street tenant William Page spent the entire decade of the 1850s in Rome. Perhaps it was these well-traveled neighbors in the building who motivated Frederic Church and Jervis McEntee, who had never before been abroad, to visit Italy. Another stimulus may have been articles in contemporary periodicals and recent guide books such a Baedecker's Handbook for Travelers: Central Italy and Rome ( London, 1867), and Murray's Handbook for Rome ( 1864). An even greater incentive for Church and McEntee to travel in Italy may have derived from their association with Thomas Cole. Church, Thomas Cole's pupil, and McEntee, Church's student, were heirs to such romantic views of Italy as Cole Landscape Composition, Italian Scenery ( 1833, The New-York Historical Society).

There were even more compelling reasons for artists to travel in the 1860s than the influence of mentors, friends, or books, among them an urgent need for new subjects and outside stimulation. New World images such as Hudson River landscapes, South American panoramas, Western scenery, and even arctic views were no longer novel; nor did they retain their former symbolic significance as virgin wilderness. If landscape paintings were to remain viable after the Civil War, the repertoire of vistas had to be extended. 5

Albert Bierstadt, a tenant in the Studio Building from 1860 to 1879, traveled for different reasons. He came to court a European clientele more than to search for new subjects. With his wife, Rosalie, he rented a studio in Rome in the winter of

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