Libraries can contain unexpected treasures. Who would have guessed that the Frick Art Reference Library possesses a collection of seventy-four photographs of artists in their Paris studios circa 1885 to 1892? The photographs were given to the Library in 1940 by the American polar artist Frank Wilbert Stokes (1858–1955). Stokes had much earlier (1916–19) tried unsuccessfully to persuade Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) to visit his studio and buy some of his paintings.
The recently completed NYARC digitization project “Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century,” was the product of a collaboration between the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archive. Like many collaborative digital projects, “Documenting Gilded Age” exposed both the challenges and unique opportunities that come from transforming physical items – in this case rare, ephemeral exhibition catalogs – into digital form.
The art exhibitions of small galleries, society clubs, and associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries chronicle the emergence of New York City as a metropolis destined to be a global center for the international art market. Ephemeral exhibition catalogs, checklists, and pamphlets from this period document artistic movements, artists of the period, economic markets, and social and cultural history. The materials from eleven galleries, clubs, and associations that have played a pivotal role in the history of art and New York City have been digitized from the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives and are now available to researchers worldwide. Spanning the period from 1875 to 1922, this initial collection serves as the foundation for a more comprehensive project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century.