Dreamt up by businessman James Boorman Johnston and completed in 1857, the 10th Street Studio offered something completely new. It was the first multiple-artist studio built in New York, in the United States, and possibly the world, according to Blaugrund. The building boasted 25 studios, ranging in size from 300 to 600 square feet. Its central atrium featured a glass ceiling and gas lighting for daylong illumination, and the space served as a communal gallery for the artists in residence.
This was a transformative feature for artists who, until then, dealt with a dearth of exhibition space. In 19th-century New York, there were only a handful of galleries and dealers; the National Academy of Design was one of few institutions that held regular shows. “Artists had to sell themselves,” Blaugrund told Artsy. “So they vied to show at the National Academy’s annual exhibitions, and they fought for their paintings to be hung on the sight line rather than, as they called it, ‘skied,’ with the painting being way up high. In that respect, they were their own marketers.”
Artists faced the dilemma of being both creator and promoter of their work, and many of those residing in the 10th Street Studio embraced these dual roles. Some were particularly savvy businessmen, including Church, who retained exhibition rights for Heart of the Andes
even after he found a buyer. Other artists made brochures to accompany exhibits, which they sold for additional cash. This entrepreneurial spirit feels surprisingly contemporary, in line with 21st-century moments like
’s record-setting auction in 2008, where he bypassed his dealer and took his work straight to Sotheby’s. But for these 19th-century American painters, there was little choice in the matter.