link: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Currents of Change, Art and Life Along the Mississippi, 1850-1861
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Currents of Change

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Currents of Change
Father of Waters
Commerce and Culture
Mississippi Panorama
Handsomely Furnished
In the French Taste
Collectors and Exhibitions
Longfellow and the Mississippi
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The influx of artists into the Mississippi Valley in the 19th century led to public exhibitions of art for sale. Offerings included works by contemporary painters like Thomas Cole along with copies of old masters such as Rembrandt, passed off as originals. One of the first art galleries, founded in 1844, was the National Gallery of Paintings in New Orleans, later called the Union Gallery. In the 1850s, it held exhibitions regularly, supplied catalogues that identified the works, and displayed the holdings of local art collectors, one of whom was the banker, railroad speculator, and politician James Robb.

Some of Robb's first art purchases came from the estate of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoléon's brother, who had lived in New Jersey. Later Robb commissioned works from Asher B. Durand and Emanuel Leutze. His collection earned him an international reputation and was exhibited in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

Like Robb, collectors farther north purchased works by contemporary artists as well as copies of old master paintings. In the 1850s, artists from St. Louis--and those, like Harriet Hosmer, who had studied there--were widely patronized. The city displayed sculpture, drawings, photographs, portraits, and paintings at the annual Agricultural and Mechanical Association fairs. In 1860 the newly established Western Academy of Art, modeled after the Art-Union in New York, held its inaugural exhibition. Private collectors and international art dealers like Goupil & Co. showed more than 450 works by dozens of artists, including Joseph Rusling Meeker, George Caleb Bingham, and Charles Deas. Unfortunately, the academy's exhibitions ceased in 1861 with the outbreak of the Civil War.