In 1871 respected New York sculptor J. Scott Hartley opened his Greenwich Village studio to aspiring local artists eager to learn. Under the name of New York Sketch Class, Hartley and his pupils gathered once a week to develop and discuss their artwork.
From 1878 to 1879 the Class exhibited together in the annual exhibition of black and white art held at the National Academy of Design. In 1880, they had significantly changed in size, location, and name, and became incorporated in Albany, New York as the "Salmagundi Sketch Club." That same year, the Club had their third annual exhibition, the catalog for which may be seen here.
By 1887 what began as a handful of pupils had swelled to over eighty members. In 1917 the institution made its final move to a stately brownstone mansion at 47 Fifth Avenue. While the origins of “Salmagundi” remain up for debate, Washington Irving’s Salmagundi Papers (and the ever-popular salmagundi stew often served in the Club’s cafeteria) offer viable theories for the unique moniker by which the institution is still known today.
A de facto community arts center, the Club provided exhibition space for drawings, fine arts, and photography; studios for painting lessons; auction rooms for midsize sales. In essence, the Salmagundi Club created an atmosphere in which artists could experiment, evolve, and evaluate their work—even sell it.
With the Club’s varied offerings in mind, it is not surprising that its exhibitions welcomed all art forms and subjects. A selection of several digitized catalogs spanning 1880 to 1921 reveals the group’s diversity, one proudly announcing an annual exhibition of oil paintings and the next centering on a single artist, prominent landscape painter—and longtime Salmagundian—John Francis Murphy. Even the whimsical charm of R. H. Robertson’s sketch of a country residence stakes a unique claim against the rigid geometry and professionalism of Bruce Price’s plan for the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, both taken from the same exposition in 1880.