The Montross Gallery is named after its founder and first director, Newman Emerson Montross (1849−1932). The gallery, which opened in 1878, represented leading American artists of the time, including Thomas Dewing, Abbott Thayer, Dwight William Tryon, Horatio Walker, and Alexander Wyant, and sold work to collectors such as Thomas B. Clark, Charles Lang Freer, George Hearn, and John Johnson. This commitment to the American art movement deepened in the 1900s, when the gallery hosted the annual exhibitions of the Ten. The gallery also showed Asian art, mounting one special exhibit in 1911 to coincide with the special exhibition of Chinese painting at the British Museum in London. Later in its history the gallery expanded its scope, and with the help of critic Walter Pach, began showing work by the American and European avant garde, including Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Man Ray, and Charles Sheeler, and selling this work to collectors such as John Quinn.
Exhibitions, with an admission cost of 10−25¢, took various forms, and included group shows, one-man shows, and highlights from private collections. They changed frequently, either monthly or weekly, and were accompanied by illustrated catalogs evocative of the style of artwork Montross was representing.
The press coverage for these exhibitions was also extensive, taking a prominent place in the reviews sections of such publications as the American Art News (1) and The New York Times (2). Such press captured the public’s interest, and pleased the exhibiting artists very much. The artist Walt Kuhn wrote an exuberant letter to his wife on February 4, 1914 extolling the successes of the show he was in at the gallery, saying, “800 people yesterday. That’s remarkable for the second day. [Montross] tells me that there were two articles yesterday and two more this morning. At this rate the place should be jammed by Saturday. Will not have to do much about publicity. A good start such as we have already made assures that.” (3) Kuhn also sketched maps of painting locations within the show and included other information about the Montross exhibition in his correspondence, digitized copies of which are available through the Archives of American Art.
The gallery’s physical space had a peripatetic history. Its first incarnation operated in tandem with an art supply shop, also owned by Mr. Montross, on Broadway and Fortieth Street. Having quickly outgrown this space, in 1885 the gallery came into its own building on Fifth Avenue at Twenty-fifth Street. In line with a trend for galleries moving uptown, in 1900, the gallery moved to 372 Fifth Avenue. In 1909 the gallery moved to its penultimate location at 550 Fifth Avenue and opened with a spectacular exhibition in 1910 with works on loan from institutions such as The National Gallery, Washington (4). The gallery’s final location was 785 Fifth Avenue.
The gallery survived for ten and a half years after Montross’s death in 1932, officially closing in 1942.
1. American Art News, Vol. 4, no. 24. p. 1.
2. “Fine Exhibition of Watercolors.” The New York Times. November 5, 1908.
3. Walt Kuhn Letters to Family, 1914 January−March, undated. Walt Kuhn Family papers and Armory Show records, 1859−1978, bulk 1900−1949. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
4. “Rare Paintings in New Galleries.” The New York Times. February 10, 1910.