American Watercolor Society
Watercolor held a particular interest in New York City during the Gilded Age. In 1866 eleven artists founded the American Watercolor Society (originally the Society of Painters in Water Colors) to elevate the medium to an autonomous art form. A complementary organization, the New York Water Color Club, was born in 1890. A common goal allowed the groups to combine their annual exhibitions beginning in 1922, and ultimately merge in 1941 as the still-extant American Watercolor Society.
Membership to the A.W.S and the N.Y.W.C.C. was open to both men and women, and boasted prominent artist members and art patrons. Venerated artists and their wives joined the groups, including Mabel La Farge and her spouse, the painter John La Farge, who were members of the N.Y.W.C.C. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Ann Goldthwaite similarly ennobled their chosen institutions, both as respected artists and prominent fixtures on the American art, social, and political scenes. Other prominent artist members were the progenitors of the Ashcan School, Robert Henri and Maurice Prendergast, as well as Childe Hassam and William Merritt Chase of The Ten.
Expositions at the American Watercolor Society and New York Water Color Club were big events. Often exceeding 500 works, the showcases garnered the attention of media outlets and artists across the region, consistently receiving glowing reviews. Artworks featured watercolors, but also included other media and ranged in size, style, and content, portraying everything from bright local cityscapes such as Colin Cooper’s Broadway from the Post Office to Kubota Beisen’s vibrant japonoiserie-inspired canvas, The Wind God. The ornate catalog cover for the American Water Color Society 1895 exhibition (seen above) reflects the complex character of these yearly assemblages: diverse, worldly, dense, and altogether unique.