Promoting, supporting and encouraging the study of the United States since 1955

British Association for American Studies


Issue 14, Spring 2009: Article 4


Issue 14, Spring 2009: Article 4

U.S. Studies Online: The BAAS Postgraduate Journal

Issue 14, Spring 2009

The Illustrated Press: Richard Watson Gilder and the American Frontier

Jayme Yahr
© Jayme Yahr. All Rights Reserved

Deemed the little sister to European artwork and the ‘unwanted stepchild of art history’, American art has long suffered as an inferior Other in the traditional eyes of the art world elite.[1] American artwork produced prior to the mid-20th century has been attacked for its lack of sophistication and distinct historical style, even though the country’s past was largely derived from an array of Old World influences and national traits. Apart from this heritage, the insatiable American frontier spirit fostered an investment in democratic ideals and freedom, and because the United States maintains a social and industrial environment in which individuals can rise from rags to riches, American art and its promoters are unlike any other.

Richard Watson Gilder, who became assistant editor of Scribner’s Monthly Magazine and editor-in-chief of its successor, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, in the late 1800s, is one such promoter of American artists and writers. Born in Bordentown, New Jersey, in 1844, Gilder was interested in the publishing world from an early age, producing two of his own newspapers, St. Thomas Register and The Leaflet, while still a teenager. After a brief stint in the Philadelphia Artillery militia organisation and the death of his father, Gilder was forced to find a job and support his family. Gilder’s frontier, bootstraps, rags-to-riches persona was obvious from his earliest magazine jobs, often taking on more than one at a time. As his editorial responsibilities grew, so did his unwavering support of America’s art world. I argue that, from hiring unknown writers to commissioning works of art based on the Western frontier, Richard Watson Gilder’s competitiveness and often unpredictable editorial choices position him as an American promoter of the arts who embodied a patriotic, frontier spirit, evident in his control of the 19th century’s most popular magazines.

With regard to character, the art world, and the American businessman, Flaminia Gennari Santori remarks that acquiring artwork is ‘a representation of national character—bold, aggressive, business-oriented and yet naïve, enthusiastic, and even romantic—(which) reinforced the profile of the American businessman as contemporary hero’.[2] Gilder’s support of American artists and unbridled enthusiasm for magazine publishing illustrate Santori’s definition of national character and also exemplify Frederick Jackson Turner’s influential 1893 frontier thesis. According to Turner, the frontier was a defining factor in the formation of America and in the construction of the country’s national character. A unique geography, acute individualism and a patriotic self-image were the outcome of a society constantly in search of the new, uncharted and the seemingly impossible. Turner explains that the geographic frontier produced a set of common intellectual traits among colonisers, noting:

(T)o the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of the mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier, or traits called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.[3]

Turner’s theory changed the course of American historical studies by declaring that the frontier Americanised the New World, and moulded the nation of immigrants into a ‘composite nationality’ governed by democracy.[4] The frontier thesis has staunch critics and supporters, as well as those who fall somewhere in between.[5] Turner’s theory has been challenged for its inclusion of conflicting character traits, such as idealism and materialism, as well as individualism and cooperation; yet, as Jackson Putnam declares, ‘since when are ambivalence and contradictoriness unheard-of facets of national character?’.[6] Just as Putnam accepts Turner’s inclusion of clashing traits within the frontier thesis as representative of common characteristics in America’s national identity, Richard Slotkin argues that ‘(t)he most potent recurring hero-figures in our mythologies are men in whom contradictory identities find expression’.[7] To fully understand the implications of Turner’s frontier theory, the mythologies and hero-figures Slotkin alludes to must be addressed. Slotkin utilises the phrase ‘myth of the frontier’ to account for the legends that provide meaning and encourage reevaluations of past events.[8] Yet these myths of the frontier are riddled with heroes who personify conflicting character traits. Robert Hine and John Mack Faragher explain America’s fascination and acceptance of these contradictory frontier fables in terms of the ‘good-badman’ paradox. They contend:

The progressive narrative of the western is consistently subverted by the presence of pathfinders who are also critics of civilization, outlaws who are Robin Hoods… Americans are drawn to characters of paradoxical impulse, to ‘good-badmen’… It is an example of what the critic Stuart Hall calls the ‘double stake’ in popular culture, the double movement of containment and resistance.[9]

Although America’s history is filled with tales of Robin Hoods, the art world has struggled to support individuals who epitomise the heroic ‘good-badman’ persona. In the case of Richard Watson Gilder, his attempts to promote American artists and writers in the pages of The Century were met with resistance by fellow magazine staff members, as well as art world elite who were most interested in publishing and supporting work by Europeans. Apart from frontier myths and contradictory character traits, Turner’s analysis of Americanisation, expansion, and national character continue to be defining features of a country blessed and cursed by its attempts to redefine itself.

Despite Turner’s assertion that the frontier mind was ‘lacking in the artistic’, I propose that his frontier theory can be applied to boldly aggressive and unconventional magazine editors and art promoters like Richard Gilder. I suggest that the frontier embraced by these American art supporters is not comprised of state lines, borders, landmarks or geography; rather, it is a mindset embodied by the American art world. The frontier mentality was, and continues to be, competitive, individualistic, patriotic, domineering and often unpredictable. According to Ray Allen Billington, the frontier did not create democracy or individualism; instead, ‘each concept was deepened and sharpened by frontier conditions’.[10] The competitiveness and patriotism that were fostered by westward expansion are evident in the attitudes of many audacious Americans living in the late 19th century.

Additionally, the formation of an American frontier mentality is partially dependent upon Europe. The notion that America was developing its own environment and a national character while continuously detaching itself from European traditions is a Turnerian point of view that can be hard to sell, and to accept.[11] America cannot deny, nor entirely remove itself from its European roots. This land of immigrants will never be able to deny the fact that Europe influenced and continues to inspire the American art world through its once dominant academy system and legacy of patronage. For instance, the academy and apprentice system that flourished in France took hold in America, although its grip and influence were not nearly as strong.[12] The American Academy of Fine Arts was founded in New York in 1802, followed shortly thereafter by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1805, yet these groups did ‘relatively little to promote artists beyond the limited confines of their membership’.[13] As the years progressed, the role of academies in America shifted to reflect the changing interests of artists and the increased dominance of wealthy self-made art patrons, who created the National Academy of Design in 1826 and the American Art-Union (formerly known as the Apollo Association) in 1839.

Following in the footsteps of self-made art promoters who championed American culture through various leagues and academies, Gilder used magazines as a venue to show support for America’s literary and artistic worlds. In 1870 at the age of 26, Gilder made his first jump up the ranks of the publishing world to editor-in-chief of Hours at Home, a monthly magazine produced by Charles Scribner and Company in New York City.  After multiple years on the market, and in an effort to keep up with current trends, Scribner and Company made the decision to phase out Hours at Home, which was to then be replaced with Scribner’s Monthly, a new magazine spearheaded by Josiah Holland.  After the demise of Hours, Gilder became Holland’s assistant editor at Scribner’s Monthly, a move that set Gilder on a lifelong career path in magazines while simultaneously sparking his interest in the promotion of the arts.

Within his first year at Scribner’s Monthly, Gilder reworked the magazine to include an increased number of articles devoted to art and artists; six percent of the magazine’s total space. Within a decade, the arts-related writings had jumped up another four percent, to 10 percent of the magazine’s article space. Most of the musings in Gilder’s early years at Scribner’s were focused on exhibition reviews and D. O’C. Townley’s essay series on ‘Living American Artists’, which were accompanied by conservative, illustrated portraits of the individuals profiled. With the advent of advanced engraving techniques and developments in printing presses, illustrations became important complements to writings about art.  What were once standard portraits of artists became adventures in new American artistic styles and scholarship, exemplified by articles on John La Farge, Elihu Vedder and expatriate James McNeill Whistler. Scribner’s was on the cusp of New York’s burgeoning art scene, and the magazine’s emphasis on artists and their work reflected the growing public’s devotion to cultural pursuits.

By the middle of the 1870s Gilder had taken over editorial control of Scribner’s Monthly and within five years the magazine was booming, having grown from less than 40,000 copies in monthly circulation to over 100,000 copies by 1877.[14] It was noted in 1923 by Robert Underwood Johnson, who took over as editor-in-chief of The Century after Gilder’s death, that

What gave (Scribner’s Monthly) its novel character was that it was not merely a miscellany, like the excellent magazines that preceded it, but was founded in conviction, open-mindedness, ambition for leadership, and a determination to be of public service. The main idea of the editors was to discover what was best and then to exploit it… It was a strong influence upon the taste of the time. Among the movements of which it was either the pioneer or, among the magazines, the conspicuous advocate, were Free Art, Art in the Home, More Artistic Coinage, and International Copyright, which was finally established ten years after Gilder assumed the role of editor-in-chief of Century Magazine and was an important vote of confidence from American publishers who continuously accepted the work of English writers.[15]

Although ambitious in its output, forward-thinking and an embodiment of the frontier mindset, the increased production and labour costs of the magazine worried Scribner and Company, as well as the parent book-publishing house of Charles Scribner and Sons. Heightened tension between all parties led to an 1881 dispute over the right for Scribner and Sons to publish books serialised in the magazine. To end the conflict, the editors of Scribner’s Monthly bought out Scribner Company interest in the publication.  Consequently, the name of the magazine was changed from Scribner’s Monthly to The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, the first issue of which went to press in November of 1881. Virtually unchanged in format, the first issue of The Century was numbered Volume XXIII, a continuation of volumes set forth by Scribner’s Monthly. On the title page, Gilder and staff reminded readers that this was Volume I of a new series. In return for the change of name, the Scribers agreed that no magazine with the ‘Scribner’ name could return to print for five years. The terms of the agreement were followed; the first issue of Scribner’s Magazine appeared in January of 1887.

With Gilder at the helm of the newly-titled magazine, the economic stakes for its success were high and placed heavily on Gilder’s shoulders. The American frontier mentality was embedded in Gilder’s decisions, whether in his personal interest in artists, or in the new pathways blazed by The Century Magazine. According to biographer Herbert Smith, ‘Gilder happened to arrive at a position of literary influence at a time when American writers were crying for their independence, economic and esthetic, from the traditions of England. By 1880, the cry had been audible in America for more than half a century, but it was during the twenty years of Gilder’s greatest power that the longest steps toward the realization of American literary independence were taken’.[16] One of Gilder’s foremost publication policies was ‘America first’, a frontier move ripe with patriotism and forthrightness. He actively cultivated an American mindset and tangible American magazine that deemed the New World to be as reputable as the Old World. Even though The Century, in its earliest days, included work by European, particularly English, writers, Gilder looked first to America for stories and essays. Gilder chose to turn West when most other American magazines, especially those in New York, were still looking to England for the majority of contributions. As Gilder explained in a letter dated February 1887:

Our safes are full of admirable short stories and serials which we scarcely have room for.  If we should take any English serial today it would crowd out some American story which, in our way of thinking, has greater claims upon us.  Americans are interested in English and foreign subjects; but we prefer as a rule to have these articles written, or else to have the illustrations made, by Americans.  This is not provincialism; it is simply a matter of obvious duty.[17]

Yet, Gilder’s frontier Americanism cost the publication both literary contributions as well as American subscribers, two measurements of a magazine’s success. A champion of writers living and working on American soil, Gilder declared that, ‘the conviction is growing daily upon us that we must give place to our American writers’.[18] Further, Gilder and The Century continued to support the frontier framework set forth by Holland when the magazine was Scribner’s Weekly, including the rules that ‘everything (the magazine) published was paid for, and the names of contributors were printed. This was done first in the table of contents and afterward with the contributions, and later full credit was given also to draughtsmen and engravers’.[19]

Just as Gilder approached the role of editor with a frontier mindset, The Century was forging new territory with its embrace of technical advancements. In 1886 a rotary press was adopted in lieu of the traditional flatbed press, which increased magazine output tenfold. Supervised by Theodore Low De Vinne, the magazine ran illustrations on a flatbed press until 1890, when R. Hoe and Company built a rotary art press that enabled the magazine to print the first halftone illustrations from curved plates. De Vinne’s experiments with paper and ink combinations produced matchless presswork of both illustrations and text. Along with Gilder’s forthright promotion of America, De Vinne’s dominance in the technological field of printing presses gave The Century an appearance worthy of its editorial aspirations, was unmatched by rival magazines, and won admiration from master printers in Europe, some of whom sent representatives to study his methods.[20] Due to The Century’s dedication to reproducing artwork at the highest quality possible, and with Gilder at its head, the magazine was able to secure work by the best illustrators of the late 19th century. None of the artists or writers were salaried staff members, as The Century commissioned each work separately. Although not on staff, illustrators such as Joseph Pennell, Arthur Burdett Frost and Charles Dana Gibson were favourite artists of the magazine. Pennell was particularly famous for his etchings of the New York skyline and skyscrapers, often producing six or more for one edition of the magazine.  Moreover, illustrator Thornton Oakley produced a compilation of sketches in 1906 and 1907 which highlighted the American public at work, including railroad labourers and coal miners.  Commissioned numerous times, Gibson and Frost were responsible for such well-known works as the modern Gibson girl, and the illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s Rhyme? & Reason?.

Gilder was also interested in exploring America’s West where expansion, freedom and patriotism were fostered in the largely uncharted wilderness. Henry Farny and Mary Hallock Foote were two travel illustrators who worked extensively for The Century. Farny’s assignments included interviews with Native American chiefs Geronimo and Sitting Bull, as well as a 1000-mile trip down the Missouri River. Born in France, Farny moved to America with his family at a young age, settling in Warren, Pennsylvania, before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. Like fellow Ohio artist Frank Duveneck, Farny traveled to Germany to study at the Royal Academies of Düsseldorf and Munich. While studying in Düsseldorf, Farny worked alongside Albert Bierstadt, a fellow American immigrant and painter. It has been suggested that Bierstadt, whose landscape paintings of the romanticised American West made him famous, encouraged the young Farny to discover the uncharted frontier, although it has been widely noted that Farny found inspiration in fellow Academy attendees Frank Duveneck and John Twatchman.[21] While abroad Farny was exposed to the new painting techniques championed by German artists including bravura brushwork, or thick brushstrokes, and the alla prima approach, or wet paint applied to wet canvas. Moreover, German artists and the Americans working in Germany often used a dark colour palette.  After returning to America, Farny travelled west in 1881 followed by additional westward trips in 1883 and 1884, where he observed and illustrated the completion of the Northern Pacific Transcontinental Railroad.

Foote, on the other hand, was one of the first widely-published American female illustrators, as well as one of the first artists to produce images of California gold mines and the wilds of both Idaho and Colorado.  Born in Milton-on-Hudson, New York, Foote became close friends with Gilder’s future wife, Helena De Kay, when they both attended Cooper School of Design for Women in New York City in the mid-1860s.  Although she worked with multiple professors at the Cooper School, Foote was guided and inspired by English artist William J. Linton, who taught the young Foote to draw directly on wood, and to fine-tune her sketching skills.  De Kay introduced Foote to Gilder, who fostered a strong editorial relationship with the artist, encouraging her to submit illustrations to The Century.  Gilder was particularly interested in Foote’s representations of her western experiences, as well as depictions of industrialisation and expansion.

Beyond the western adventures documented in The Century, Gilder was dedicated to providing an inside look at America’s art establishments, and he was unafraid to publish critical reviews. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was the subject of one such review in 1884, which addressed the institution’s need for educational aids such as sculptural casts and architectural models, instead of spending its funds on costly collector’s pieces. Eight years later, The Century lauded the Met’s progress towards fulfilling the need for educational aids, as well as the museum’s decision to remain open to visitors on Sundays. In addition to New York’s art institutions, museums in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Chicago were enthusiastically supported by writers such as Ripley Hitchcock who explored the topic of westward cultural expansion in his August 1886 review titled, ‘The Western Art Movement’.[22]

During the same period of time that Gilder championed American artists and writers in the Century, his personal home became a gathering place for his social circle of the foremost artists and literary minds who lived in or visited New York. ‘At home’ on Friday evenings, 103 East 15th Street, was otherwise known as The Studio. Gilder and his wife, Helena De Kay, welcomed such guests as pianists Ignace Paderewski and Adele aus der Ohe, violinist Leonora von Stosch, singer Clara Louise Kellogg, and actors and actresses Salvini, Joseph Jefferson, Eleanora Duse and Helen Modjeska. E. L. Godkin (editor of The Nation), John Burroughs (nature writer), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (sculptor), Mary Hallock Foote, Andrew Carnegie, Rudyard Kipling, John Singer Sargent, General William Sherman and William James were frequent visitors to The Studio, as were literary figures Mark Twain, Bret Harte, William Howells and Henry James.[23]

Bret Harte, a frequent visitor to The Studio and an integral figure in Gilder’s social network, grew up in California, a true man of the Western frontier. As a child, Harte was interested in novels and by 1857 was writing for magazine publications including Northern Californian, Golden Era and Californian, before a brief period of success as an editor for the Overland Monthly. Reviews and regional stories were Harte’s tour de force at the Overland Monthly and the magazine quickly received attention throughout the nation. Harte moved on to the Atlantic Monthly, a magazine known for its stories, reviews, and illustrations of all things Western and frontier-oriented.  Yet Harte is best remembered as a critic devoted to the same American ideals championed by Gilder: realism in writing, particularly as it pertained to the ‘New America’, a land of change, expansion, and tolerance for differences of opinion. Harte also supported writers, as did Gilder, whether through his editorial work, or his critiques and reviews. A personal friend and collaborator of Mark Twain, Harte was additionally a part of the writers’ group formed by Twain, William Howells and Henry James, which was dubbed the ‘realist revolution’ of the 1860s and 1870s.[24]

Like Harte, William Howells was a leader of the ‘realism war’, a literary critic who was an editor of the Atlantic Monthly and a regular contributor to Harper’s between 1886 and 1892.[25] Although Howells supported American writers, he was not immune to the influence of England and English authors, especially in his early career. He explained that in his younger years, ‘(I) wore English glasses which (I) had to remove in order to look at American life with my own American eyes’.[26] A tireless supporter of writers, Howells, like Harte and Gilder, was also a champion of American causes and political change, from woman’s suffrage to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

No doubt Gilder was partly responsible for the mainstream success of these realist writers, as their works were published and promoted by The Century. Henry James’ The Bostonians (1886) was serialised in the magazine, as were Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson (1894), Howells’ A Modern Instance (1882), A Woman’s Reason (1883) and The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885). Additionally, The Century excerpted Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), publications that remain popular to this day.

The Studio became a forum for the exchange of ideas, discussion and inspiration, as well as a rallying point of many young artists who had recently returned to America after time spent in cities such as Paris and Munich, including painters Frank Duveneck and William Merritt Chase. At The Studio, the foundation was laid for the Society of American Artists, a group officially formed in 1877 as a protest against the traditional, conservative National Academy of Design which was founded in 1826. At the Academy’s exhibition of 1877, a feud began between the older, more traditional artists, and the artists who were younger in age and experimenting with new techniques and individual styles. In response to the attention garnered by the works produced by the younger set, the older group delegated unwanted and obscure spots within the gallery space to the up-and-comers. The younger artists were outraged, especially Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who met with Helena de Kay Gilder and his artist contemporaries at The Studio. The meeting’s result was the Society of American Artists, a secessionist group joined by almost every member of the younger generation. Among the society’s members were Julian Alden Weir, John La Farge, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Henry Twatchman. Like the National Academy, the society held annual exhibitions of its members’ work. Although Helena de Kay Gilder was a member of the group, Richard Watson Gilder was the literal manifestation of the group’s ideals and new movements in artistic expression.

John La Farge, a prominent member of The Studio, was born in 1835 in New York to French parents. After completing school, La Farge embarked on a grand tour of Europe, visiting Denmark, Belgium, Germany and France before returning to America in 1857. Once back on home soil, La Farge settled in Newport, Rhode Island, to study painting with William Morris Hunt. While in Newport, La Farge became close friends with writers Henry James and William James, two members of Gilder’s social circle, and frequent visitors to The Studio. La Farge worked in many mediums, including painting, sculpture, stained glass and etching, receiving recognition in each type of artistic practice. Yet, to Gilder, La Farge’s illustrations were innovative, exemplifying new trends in American art in the latter half of the 19th century. As Henry Adams notes in regard to La Farge’s illustrations:

(La Farge) disliked the hard, linear effect of previous illustrations and consequently created his designs in wash, much to the consternation of his engravers, who had to translate his subtle gradations of tone into linear networks. Neither La Farge nor his artisans were ever satisfied with the result, but the friction between them led to a new style of wood engraving—the so-called New School or American School—which virtually eliminated modeling with contour lines to concentrate instead on tonal and atmospheric qualities. Thus, as in his paintings, La Farge chose both subjects and techniques that transcended the literal and the physical, that translated mundane realities into the world of spirit and imagination.[27]

Apart from his friendships with Henry and William James, La Farge worked closely with Augustus Saint-Gaudens on multiple projects, including the Saint Thomas Church and the Union League Club, both in New York. In addition to La Farge’s interaction with members of The Studio, the artist was promoted in The Century. From 1890 to 1893 La Farge’s ‘An Artist’s Letters from Japan’ was serialised in the magazine, and in 1904, ‘A Fiji Festival’ was published, a testament to Gilder’s interest in the artist, as well as tales of travel and expansion.

Besides championing the work of artists, Gilder was intent on promoting, with frontier conviction, American writers. On November 1, 1882 Gilder wrote a letter to English author Edmund Gosse noting, ‘We started an Author’s Club at our house the other night. You will be surprised to hear that there is no such thing in the city—but perhaps you will not be surprised either, for I doubt if there is such a thing in London. I do not know how it will succeed, but there seems to be a demand for such an organisation to bring literary workers together’.[28] Six years after the Author’s Club was established, Gilder became the Fellowcraft Club’s first president, explaining in a letter to American poet James Lowell in February of 1889 that, ‘About a year ago a club was formed here in New York, of journalists of the pen and pencil; it consists of two hundred or more men, most of the active ones on the daily papers of this city… Almost without my knowledge or consent, I was elected President of the organization’.[29] Moreover Gilder remarked in another letter to a friend that, ‘My interest in the Fellowcraft Club is, I may say, a patriotic one. The journalists of this city seem to need, and very much to desire, such a club as we are making for them… I have (taken on the role of President) simply for the supposed good of the Craft, and as I said above, the need for such a club is keenly felt by the best men in the profession’.[30] As exemplified by his letters, the frontier spirit was alive and well in Gilder’s efforts to promote American writers.

In addition to his efforts to include America’s prominent writers in the pages of The Century, Gilder was a founder of the American Copyright League and a fervent lobbyist on behalf of artists’ rights. Moreover, the Author’s Club, formed at The Studio, was an essential center for strategic planning and the foundation of the American Copyright League. Due to a lack of international copyright, authors lost extensive amounts of money through pirating in America and abroad. English authors were troubled by American publishers who reproduced stories and books without proper reimbursement and American authors faced the same fate in Europe. Often writers attempting to create a reputation were at a particular disadvantage, as the work of renowned authors from England were reproduced without royalty payments in American publications; thus the unknown or little-known authors were forced to take a backseat to pirated writings. Gilder was a staunch supporter of fairness and integrity in publishing, and worked tirelessly with the American Congress to pass international legislation. Moreover, Gilder devoted ample space in The Century to ‘Open Letters’ by American writers committed to the international copyright cause, in addition to sending associate editor of the magazine Robert Underwood Johnson to lobby for congressional support in Washington. The international copyright act was passed in March 1891, with much of the campaign’s success falling to Gilder and The Century.

When Richard Watson Gilder died in November of 1909 at the age of 5, The Century had began a downward spiral, unable to keep pace with cheap, mass-produced magazines such as McClure’s and Cosmopolitan. In its heyday The Century’s monthly circulation was over 220,000, a number much larger than any of its rivals, including Harper’s and Scribner’s Magazine, but by the first decade of the 20th century, that number had dropped to 125,000.[31] Yet, even with The Century’s fall from grace, Gilder’s influence on the publishing, art and literary worlds was visible in the increased opportunities available to artists, and America’s devotion to representing homegrown writers in mass-produced magazines. As explained in 1939’s Modern American Painting:

Never in the nation’s history has there been a time when art was so widely appreciated or so seriously practiced as it is today.  America salutes the past, and is grateful to Europe for the aesthetic problems it has solved for all nations.  But to this technical knowledge we have now added something that is entirely our own—our own way of life, our own way of thinking and feeling, or our American spirit, if you want to give this something its most inclusive meaning.  As a result, the world is witnessing the birth of a new school—The American School.[32]

Without Richard Watson Gilder, The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, and The Studio, The American School would not have been possible, nor would the cultural landscape of the country look as it does today. As The Nation concluded on the occasion of his passing, ‘(Gilder’s life) was a message to the world, that, for all its shortcomings, in its finest citizenship, America remains a land of lofty ideals’.[33]

University of Washington


[1] Wanda Corn, ‘Coming of Age: Historical Scholarship in American Art’, The Art Bulletin 70.2 (June 1988), p. 188.

[2] Flaminia Gennari Santori, The Melancholy of Masterpieces: Old Master Paintings in America 1900-1914 (Milan: 5 Continents, 2003), p. 95.

[3] Frederick Jackson Turner, ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History’, The Frontier in American History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997), p. 37.

[4] Ibid. p. 22.

[5] For an overview of recent scholarship in American history, including the frontier theory and ‘westering’ see Thomas Bender, ‘Strategies of Narrative Synthesis in American History’, The American Historical Review 107.1 (Feb., 2002), p. 129-153. For scholarship supporting Turner’s frontier thesis see David M. Potter, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), a study of the effect of economic abundance on national character and the frontier. William Cronon, ‘Revisiting the Vanishing Frontier: The Legacy of Frederick Jackson Turner’, The Western Historical Quarterly 18.2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 157-176. For a discussion of the contradictory nature of the frontier thesis see Marvin W. Mikesell, ‘Comparative Studies in Frontier History’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 50.1 (Mar., 1960), p. 62-74, and The Frontier Thesis: Valid Interpretation of American History?, Ray Allen Billington (ed.) (Huntington, New York: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1977).

[6] Jackson K. Putnam, ‘The Turner Thesis and the Westward Movement: A Reappraisal’, The Western Historical Quarterly 7.4 (Oct., 1976), p. 396. Putnam explains that ‘neither historian nor citizen can ever truly understand the history of the American West without first coming to grips with the subject’s symbolic and aesthetic meanings as revealed by creative artists’ (p. 398).

[7] Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher, American West: A New Interpretive History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 475.

[8] Ibid. pp. 474-75.

[9] Ibid. Stuart Hall quoted in Richard Slotkin, ‘Myth and the Production of History’, Ideology and Classic American Literature, Sacvan Bercovitch and Myra Jehlen (eds) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986): 70, 86; Ralph Samuel (ed.) People’s History and Socialist Theory (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 228.

[10] Ray Allen Billington (ed.), The Frontier Thesis: Valid Interpretation of American History? (New York: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1977), p. 5.

[11] See Turner, p. 23, and Billington, p. 5, as he discusses frontier character traits and the differences between the pioneers of the west and the citizens of Europe. Noteworthy is Billington’s statement that ‘It is obviously untrue that the frontier experience alone accounts for the unique features of American civilization; that civilization can be understood only as the product of the interplay of the Old World heritage and New World conditions. But among those conditions none has bulked larger than the operation of the frontier process’ (p. 7). See Mikesell, p. 62 for a summary and discussion of Turner’s frontier theory including the concepts of Americanization, national character, and America’s turn away from European influence.

[12] Erica E. Hirshler, ‘Claiming Our Property Wherever We Find it: American Art After 1865’, America: The New World in 19th Century Painting, ed. Stephan Koja (New York: Prestel, 1999) for an in-depth discussion of America’s academy system.

[13] Franklin Kelly, ‘Nineteenth-Century Collections of American Paintings’, America: The New World in 19th-Century Painting, ed. Stephan Koja (New York: Prestel, 1999), p. 195.

[14] Arthur John, The Best Years of the Century: Richard Watson Gilder, Scribner’s Monthly, and Century Magazine, 1870-1909 (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1981), p. 77. Henceforth The Best Years of the Century.

[15] Robert Underwood Johnson, Remembered Yesterdays (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1923), p. 87. Henceforth Remembered Yesterdays.

[16] Herbert F. Smith, Richard Watson Gilder (New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970), p. 74. Henceforth Richard Watson Gilder.

[17] Ibid, p.78.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Remembered Yesterdays, pp. 87-88.

[20] Ibid. p. 182. See Theodore Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1964).

[21] Taos Painters: Henry Francois Farny (1847-1916), See Spanierman Gallery LLC website for information regarding Farny’s Munich years,

[22] Remembered Yesterdays, p. 191.

[23] The Best Years of the Century, pp. 1-2; Richard Watson Gilder, p. 23.

[24] David E. E. Sloane, ‘Bret Harte’, Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Literary Critics and Scholars 1850-1880, John W. Rathbun and Monica M. Grecu (eds), vol. 64 (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1988), p.95. Henceforth Dictionary of Literary Biography.

[25] Gloria Martin, ‘William Dean Howells’, Dictionary of Literary Biography, p.117.

[26] Ibid. p.120.

[27] Henry Adams, ‘The Mind of John La Farge’, John La Farge (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987), p. 36. See notes 67 and 68.

[28] Rosamond Gilder (ed), Letters of Richard Watson Gilder (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916), pp. 119-120.

[29] Ibid. p. 185.

[30] Ibid. p. 186.

[31] Remembered Yesterdays, p. 233.

[32] Peyton Boswell, Modern American Painting (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1939), p. 11.

[33] Remembered Yesterdays, p. 266.