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Unintended Consequences: The American Art-Union and the Rise of a National Landscape School
by Kimberly Orcutt

with Allan McLeod

Introduction | Scholarly Essay | Interactive Features | Project Narrative

At its height, the American Art-Union (1838–52) boasted nearly 19,000 members from almost every state. For an annual fee of five dollars, members received an engraving after a painting by a notable US artist; their names were entered in a drawing for hundreds of paintings and sculptures displayed in its Free Gallery, attended by hundreds of thousands annually; and they received the monthly Bulletin, the country’s first dedicated art journal. The Art-Union has been acknowledged for its impact on the antebellum art world, but the exact nature of its influence has been difficult to discern due to the overwhelming amount of archival material associated with its activities. This article uses digital tools to analyze the extensive data through interactive maps, timelines, and charts that show not only its broad reach, but also its unexpected role in fostering a school of landscape painting that went beyond the well-known artists and collectors of the East Coast to reach across the country, creating a truly national movement.