Times & Places

Art Students League (New York, NY)

The Art Students League was founded in 1875 in reaction to the National Academy of Design’s plan to remove life drawing from the curriculum. It grew rapidly in its first year, helmed by Lemuel E. Wilmarth as its first president. The League was funded purely by membership fees, allowing the institution a degree of independence. Life drawing courses were the cornerstone of the curriculum and offered every week day, included dedicated life drawing sessions for women, even instituting the first co-ed life drawing class in 1898.

The League was organized as a collection of studios overseen individually by artists—this organizational structure remains. It has always been run by artists, without degrees or a prescribed curriculum. John Sloan studied with George Bellows; Isabel Bishop with Max Weber; Georgia O’Keeffe with William Merritt Chase and Kenyon Cox. The League integrated as early as 1907 and trained many young African American Artists who came to New York to participate in the Harlem Renaissance. Also in the 1930s, the League invited George Grosz to speak, expediting his emigration from Nazi Germany.

After the second World War, Donald Judd and Robert Rauschenberg were among the thousands of new students who enrolled thanks to the GI Bill. The East Village art scene in the 1980s attracted a new wave of students, including Ai Weiwei. Other faculty members, lecturers, and students have included Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Barnett Newman, Norman Rockwell, Winslow Homer, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Louise Nevelson, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, and Cy Twombly.

Rebecca Singerman, 2018-2019 McDermott Graduate Intern for American Art

Drawn from

  • William Rudolph, DMA unpublished material.

  • The History of the Art Students League of New York, and Jillian Russo, “A Short History of the Art Students League as an Artistic Community,” The Masters: Art Students League Teachers and their Students (New York: The Art Students League, 2018).

Fun Facts

  • When the Art Students League opened in 1875, it cost $5 each month. Students attended a daily three-hour life drawing class: men in the morning, women in the afternoon. The following year, enough students were enrolled that an additional life drawing class was added for men in the evening. There were also co-ed portrait classes three times a week, and a daily sketching class.

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