Thursday, July 6, 2023

The Fourth Avenue Studio - 337-341 Park Avenue South

In the early 1870's, Allen B. Miller & Brother's carriage auction house operated from the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and 25th Street.  At the time, the concept of "studio buildings" was gaining popularity in the city, sparked by James Boorman Johnston's far-sighted 1858 Tenth Street Studios Building.  Studio buildings provided both living and working space for artists.

Owners Robert and Ogden Goelet demolished the old building in 1875 and erected the Fourth Avenue Studio.  Four stories tall, it was faced in red brick and trimmed in in stone.  While essentially neo-Grec in design, it retained elements of the Italianate style, notably in the elliptically arched openings.  Large floor-to-ceiling windows on the second and third floors of the 25th Street elevation flooded those studios with northern light, so important to artists.  Three entrances--one to the upper floors and two to the commercial spaces--were framed in stone and flanked by polished columns.

King's Views of Ne York, 1893 (copyright expired)

The Fourth Street Studio quickly filled.  On October 4, 1876, the New York Herald announced, "Sam Colman has returned and put up his quarters in the new Studio Building on Fourth avenue.  He was joined by other artists within two months.  On January 2, 1877, the New York Herald reported, "[George] Smillie has taken up his quarters in the new Fourth avenue studio building and is at work on landscape and cattle subjects."  The article reiterated, "Colman, who has returned from his wanderings, has on his easel a painting of Durham Cathedral, perched away upon a high hill, with a placid sheet of water seen in the foreground.  He has also taken up his quarters in the fourth avenue studio."  Both Colman and Smillie were primarily landscape artists.  

Colman was a founder of the American Water Color Society and was its first president.  He was close friends with Louis Comfort Tiffany, who had studied with Colman in the 1860s.  The two would later collaborate on interior design.  It was possibly their close relationship that influenced Louis Tiffany's choosing the building next door at 333-335 Park Avenue for his Tiffany Glass Company's headquarters in 1887.

Colman's Storm King on the Hudson.  from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

George Smillie came from an artistic family.  His father, under whom he studied, was artist James Smillie, and his brother James David Smillie was also an artist.  George Smillie's landscapes were often set along the New England coast.

Other original tenants were painters Agnes Dean Abbatt, Elizabeth H. Remington, and sculptor Charles Calverley.  

Primarily a still life painter of flowers, Elizabeth H. Remington painted The Two Kings--Corn and Cotton in the Fourth Street Studio building in 1876.  from the collection of Bernard Baruch

Born in Albany in 1833, Calverley had dropped out of school at the age of 13 to support his family after his father died.  He found a job with stonecutter John Dixon who paid him $1 a week to clean out his stoves and make fires.  Beginning in 1853 he apprenticed with sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, and by the time he moved into the Fourth Street Studio was a member of the National Academy of Design.  

On April 26, 1888, The Albany Evening Journal reported that a committee of Albany gentlemen "proceeded to New York last evening for the purpose of formally accepting the clay model of Mr. Calverley's statue of Robert Burns to be erected in Washington Park...If the clay model is satisfactory, the statue will be cast immediately and unveiled in Washington park on Aug. 30."  It was, indeed, satisfactory and the Burns statue in Albany became his most famous piece.  A bust based on that work was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1891.

In 1879, Appleton's Dictionary of New York and Vicinity commented, "There is quite a large colony of artists in New York, and for their accommodation several buildings have been fitted up for studio purposes."  It noted that among the buildings "devoted exclusive to artists is the 'Fourth Avenue Studio Building,' cor. of 4th av. and 25th st.  This was erected very recently, and is fitted up for studio purposes almost exclusively."

Among the tenants in the early 1880s were painters Robert Ward Van Boskerck, Albert Fitch Bellows, Ernest Longfellow, and Sarah Rhodes Macknight.  By 1886, all three of the Smillies--James, James David, and George--occupied studios in the building.

Artist J. Wells Champney and his wife, the former Elizabeth Williams, lived here by 1882 when The Evening Telegram notified other socialites on November 16, "Mrs. G. W. Champney is at home on Wednesdays at her studio rooms, No. 337 Fourth avenue."  Elizabeth entertained routinely in the studio/apartment.  On December 7, 1890, for instance, The Press reported, "Yesterday Mr. and Mrs. J. Wells Champney gave a tea at their residence, No. 337 Fourth avenue."

In the meantime, by 1884 one of the ground floor commercial spaces was home to Charles Lurch's piano store.  That year New York's Great Industries said, "he keeps in his warerooms only the best made instruments, carefully selected by him from among our leading manufacturers...He occupies a fine large store, centrally located, and carries a splendid stock of new instruments of all kinds and styles."

The 1890s saw studios occupied by Frank B. Carpenter, John du Fais, Frederick Wilson, and architect Charles E. Thain.  On September 7, 1893, a reporter from The Press visited the studio of Frank B. Carpenter "carrying to the well known artist news of the death of Hamilton Fish."  The article said, "Mr. Carpenter was putting the finishing touches on a copy of his 'Arbitration' painting, the original of which was presented to Queen Victoria two years ago by Mrs. William W. Carson of Newburg and now hangs in Windsor Castle."

The news was especially meaningful to Carpenter.  Hamilton Fish occupied a prominent place in the Arbitration painting, which depicted the 1871 Treaty of Washington between the United States and Great Britain.  He and Carpenter had spent much time in repeated sittings and interviews, and the two came to know one another well.

At the turn of the century, Tiffany & Company expanded its showrooms into the ground floor.

Famed artist William Merritt Chase took space in the building in 1908.  In her 1917 biography The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase, Katharine Metcalf Roof wrote:

The Fourth Avenue Studio was even more spacious than the Tenth Street place.  Partitions were taken down until a connecting chain of four rooms remained, two of which were extremely large.  Somewhat overcrowded, yet without seeming actually cluttered because of their size, these rooms were beautiful in tone and color.  Rich draperies, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese embroideries were in evidence on all sides.  Pictures of his own and of other painters, including a few old masters, stood about or were hung on the walls.  Beautiful old furniture, including some rare Spanish pieces, bits of porcelain, brass, copper, Japanese carvings; miscellaneous objets d'art, Italian, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Oriental, were set each in the exactly right place--for the taste that can enjoy such multitudinous ornament!

It would not be long, however, before non-artistic tenants moved into the Fourth Avenue Studio Building.  More modern studio buildings that were being erected uptown, many of them on the Upper West Side, lured artists away.  In 1905 Tiffany & Company moved uptown and the ground floor of 337-341 Fourth Avenue became home to the Fifth Avenue Auction Rooms, which would remain into the 1920s.  The Hartley Silk Mfg. Co. operated from an upper floor space by 1915, and the Atlas Knitting Co. was here in 1918, supplying underwear to the U.S. Army.

By 1921 it appears that Isabel L. Whitney was the last artist in the building.  She would remain at least until 1925.  Among the other tenants was Alfred Littauer & Co., manufacturers and wholesalers of surgical instruments.  The firm occupied space until the Depression years.  Appropriately, in 1939 the American Artists League, Inc. rented space in the building.  

In 1959 Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue South.  By then the distinguished history of the building was mostly forgotten.  Somewhat fittingly, in the early 1970s art returned to the building in the form of the L A L Photo Gallery, which staged exhibitions of the works of photographers.

The ground floor space where Tiffany & Company once exhibited stained glass windows and other masterful works is today home to a bank branch.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

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