The Macbeth Gallery and Angry Young Men in the Pamphlet Files
Although the NYPL Art & Architecture Pamphlet Files now contain material from galleries all over the world, the initial focus was on the New York art scene. An excellent example of one of the earliest New York City files in the collection is from the Macbeth Gallery (initially known as the William Macbeth Gallery). No Shakespearian connection here, this gallery which was the first to focus exclusively on American art, was the creation of a Scottish/Irish immigrant by the name of William Macbeth.
The gallery opened in 1892 and the NYPL Pamphlet Files collection begins with a small exhibition brochure for Willbur A. Reaser in 1899. The text by Mr. Macbeth notes that despite spending seven years in Europe, Reaser had been saved “from being wrecked in the dangerous seas of modern French art”. The following year the gallery offered a solo exhibit of an American woman, Rosina Emmet Sherwood (born in New Rochelle, NY and a student of William Merritt Chase) at a time when solo shows by women were not common. 1900 also saw an exhibition of Maurice Prendergast’s work. Prendergast would later become a participant in what was probably the most popular and controversial show at the Macbeth Gallery—the February 1908 exhibit of the work of “The Eight”.
This historically significant event, which was a protest against the New York art world dominated by the juried exhibitions of the National Academy, presented the work of John Sloan, William Glackens, Maurice Prendergast, Robert Henri, Arthur B. Davies, Everett Shinn, Ernest Lawson and George Luks. Described in a 1962 clipping from The New York Herald Tribune as the “angry young men” of their day, most of “The Eight” were originally newspaper illustrators from Philadelphia. Though their styles were diverse, their subjects were often gritty scenes of urban life especially in New York City. A 1938 brochure in the file—“The Eight” (of 1908) Thirty Years After—features an essay that discusses the influence of these “rebellionists” and notes that many of the canvases in the original exhibition were now part of museum collections. “The Eight” soon became part of the larger movement known as “The Ashcan School” and a number of artists such as Prendergast, Davies, Henri, and later Bellows would show at the Macbeth Gallery.
When William Macbeth died in 1917 his son Robert took over the gallery. The Pamphlet Files catalogues from the 1920s document exhibits that included Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, Chauncey F. Ryder, and Maurice Prendergast. A prominent 1932 exhibit—Paintings of the Hudson River School—featured magnificent works by Thomas Cole, Frederick E. Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Asher Brown Durand among others. 1932 was also the forty-year anniversary of the Macbeth gallery. The catalogue—Forty Years of American Art—documents what must have been an incredible show with works by many of the gallery’s artists including William Merritt Chase, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Childe Hassam, and Winslow Homer.
Robert Macbeth successfully ran the gallery through the 1930s until his death in 1940. It was then taken over by Robert’s cousin Robert McIntyre who continued to focus on the best of representational American art. The Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition 1892-1942 exhibit featured 35 works including paintings by Thomas Eakins, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler and Macbeth regulars such as Hassam, Prendergast, and Davies. Brochures in the collection also document Marsden Hartley’s major solo shows in 1942 and another in 1945 after his death in 1943. A solo show of Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors was exhibited in November of 1943.
By 1950 the American art scene had changed dramatically as Abstract Expression rapidly became the dominant movement in New York. The last major show at the Macbeth Gallery, which featured all the great names of American representational and impressionist painting, would be the Sixtieth Anniversary Exhibition in April 1952—the gallery would close forever in 1953.
In addition to the original material collection in the NYPL Pamphlet Files, many of the Macbeth Gallery pamphlets and other materials are available online in digital collections at:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries: Macbeth Gallery Exhibition Catalogs
- The Frick Collection’s Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America
- The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian