William Sidney Mount. “Bargaining for a Horse.” New York: American Art-Union, 1851. Engraved by Charles Burt. 7 3/4 x 10. Very good condition.
The American Art Union (AAU) is well known today for the thirty-six engravings it published based on the paintings of some of the most luminous names in American art, including George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, F.O.C. Darley, R.C. Woodville, Asher B. Durand, and William Sidney Mount. The association is especially important for the seminal role it played in stimulating American art and for spreading an awareness of this art throughout the country. As growth boomed in the American economy and on its Western frontier, artists and art dealers began to notice a decided lack of growth in the national arts. Borrowing a page from German and English art societies, gallery owner James Herring founded the Apollo Art Association in 1839, the organization which would later morph into the American Art Union.
Gathering funds by subscriptions, the Union purchased and then redistributed paintings and engravings, creating a structure that made high art accessible to the middle class. For a small membership fee, participants would receive an annual members’ engraving as well as a chance at the lottery of paintings and prints purchased with AAU funds. Based in Manhattan, the American Art Union also kept an open gallery, which drew large numbers of visitors keen to see the paintings advertised. In addition to issuing annual subscription prints, the AAU commissioned three medals commemorating important American artists including Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Washington Allston. These and other goings-on of the organization were reported to members in the AAU Bulletin, published once or twice annually. With its gallery and thousands of subscribers, the AAU probably had more than any other force to do with the success of many of America’s nineteenth century artists and the popularization of their work. The legacy of the American Art Union is immense, best exemplified today in the thirty-six engravings it published based on the paintings of some of the most luminous names in American art, including George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, F.O.C. Darley, R.C. Woodville, Asher B. Durand, and William Sidney Mount.