Union League Club
It comes as little surprise that the Union League Club of New York, established in 1863 in the throes of the American Civil War, began more as a political institution than a social one. Its powerful members focused on cultivating national pride, executing civic duties, and brightening the city; their involvement in creating such public treasures as the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Monument at Union Square, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art reflects this commitment.
The Club also supported the arts within its own walls. By 1890 the group was hosting exhibitions of fine art from around the globe. A catalog cover from that year announces a show on American landscapes and Greek art, the text ensconced beneath an intricate drawing of a Greek amphora. Another example illustrates the variety of Club members’ tastes as it flamboyantly introduces an exhibition of Antique Japanese Armor in coordination with the Annual Exhibition of American Paintings. Clearly, the Union League Club of New York had become a center for artistic patronage.
This aesthetic variety does not mean that the Club did not have its favorite subjects and styles. Many of the exhibitions shown at the Union League Club of New York concentrated on European Old Masters as well as contemporary American ones. Works by venerated names like Rembrandt, Cranach, Reynolds, and Botticelli, William Merritt Chase, Samuel Colman, Winslow Homer, and Childe Hassam, graced the Club walls on more than one occasion. Members, friends, and artist-members often lent individual masterpieces or entire estates to the Club for the sole purpose of being exhibited. Sometimes the Club combined multiple collections into one showcase, thereby demonstrating its flexibility, creativity, and neutrality in juxtaposing beautiful artworks. A program on Old Masters, American Painters, and Claude Monet serves as a perfect example.
Of the four clubhouses the Club has occupied since its inception, the Jerome Mansion is perhaps the most noteworthy. The six-story mansard-roofed building stood at East Twenty-sixth Street and Madison Avenue and was once home to Jennie Jerome—better known as Lady Randolph Churchill, the mother of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Its many amenities made it ideal for the Union League, from its capacious theater to its gilded ballroom replete with champagne and cologne fountains. The Club moved once again before finally settling at its current address at the corner of Thirty-seventh Street and Park Avenue.
The Club had many sister institutions around the country, most of which assumed similar cultural roles in their respective locations. Only those in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York, however, survive today.