Education + School

George W. Maynard’s Women’s Life Class, ca. 1890’s

George W. Maynard’s Women’s Life Class, ca. 1890’s

 One of the primary intentions of the founders of the National Academy was that it would serve as an art school for the training of aspiring professional artists. There were few public art galleries and no art schools in New York at the time. The first session of the National Academy School commenced on November 15, 1826, in the Old Alms House at City Hall Park in lower Manhattan, with two Academicians and twenty students sketching by candlelight. During its early years of operation, groups of young artists met with established professionals to draw from plaster casts of antique sculpture, a centuries-old academic tradition. In addition to practical training, a portion of the original educational program was devoted to lectures given by such distinguished figures as William Cullen Bryant, Gulian C. Verplanck, and Alexander Jackson Davis, on topics that included anatomy, perspective, ancient history, architecture, and mythology.

In 1837 the Academy added life classes—drawing from live models—to its curriculum for advanced male students. A life class for women, however, was not instituted until 1857, even though women had always been allowed membership in the Academy and were frequent contributors to its Annual exhibitions.

Gifford Beal painting class, 1938

Gifford Beal painting class, 1938

Throughout the 19th century, the school moved locations several times, and shut down for extended periods due to financial woes. In 1875, for instance, there being no funds available for instructors, models, and other school expenses, the school was closed for the summer. This led to dissatisfaction among the students. In this unhappy condition, a group of students joined together and in conference with their teacher, Professor Wilmarth, formed a self-governing, cooperative class. The name given to the new venture was suggested by one of the Academy pupils, Theodore Robinson, as the Art Students league. This new school grew from the Academy and followed its initial purpose - a school governed by artists for the study and promotion of art on a noncommercial basis. The Arts Students League is still in existence today, as a separate school.

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At the turn of the 20th century, the Academy School adopted the European atelier system—a critical turning point. The atelier system gives students the option of concentrating their instruction under a specific master. The school rapidly grew in stature and reputation, attracting students such as Winslow Homer, George Inness, Arshile Gorky, and Willem de Kooning. For nearly 200 years, the School has remained unrivaled in its commitment to the atelier-style classes in an intimate teaching environment. Once settled in its new home, the School will continue to foster the artistic visions of its students through mentorships, workshops, lectures, critiques, portfolio development, and individualized attention from faculty instructors.

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