The founding of the National Academy stemmed from the failed attempt in 1825 by the fledgling art students Thomas Seir Cummings and Frederick Styles Agate to gain access to the American Academy of Fine Art’s collection of casts of antique sculpture. After expressing displeasure to an American Academy director, the artists were chastised by the organizations’ esteemed president John Trumbull. Spurred on by Trumbull’s arrogance, a loosely organized group of artists and architects, including Thomas Cole, Rembrandt Peale, Ithiel Town, Samuel F. B. Morse, Asher B. Durand, and others met in late November 1825 and dubbed themselves the New York Drawing Association.
Two months later the group ratified the establishment of the National Academy of the Arts of Design. During this era, design was the exact translation of the French word “dessin,” meaning drawing. In choosing its name the Academy was expressing its desire that the organization concentrate on the traditional fine arts for which drawing is fundamental; painting, sculpture, engraving and architecture.
Morse had studied at the Royal Academy in London, where he became knowledgeable about its operation. This aided him in formulating the organization of the NAD, which in emulation of the RA is made up of professional artist members, and a structure that includes an elected government council, a professional art school, and an annual exhibition of contemporary art. Morse served as president of the NAD from 1826 to 1848, and again in 1861, on the resignation of the institutions second president, Asher B. Durand. At its founding, the NAD was the first institution in the US established by and under the exclusive control of professional artists.
Since its founding, the National Academy has followed a simple yet powerful mission: To promote the fine arts in America through exhibition and education. The founders of the National Academy believed that the practice and exhibition of art and architecture could flourish outside of the aristocratic patronage system. Their new egalitarian institution would aim for the highest echelons of artistic expression with an inclusive philosophy, enriching and educating new generations of artists and architects while preserving and sharing their work with the public.
The official name of the Academy has changed over its history. In 1828 the name of the organization was shortened to the National Academy of Design. In 1997 the name of the institution was expanded to the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts. The name of the body of Academicians remains the National Academy of Design. In 2017, the institution returned its name to the National Academy of Design.
Official Names of the Academy 1825-2017
1825 The New York Drawing Association
1826 The National Academy of The Arts of Design
1828 The National Academy of Design
1997 The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Art
2017 The National Academy of Design