October 31, 2018

Rare and Strange Photographs From the 1955 Art Students League of New York

The Art Students League of New York is an art school located on West 57th Street in Manhattan, New York City, New York. The League has historically been known for its broad appeal to both amateurs and professional artists and for over 140 years has maintained a tradition of offering reasonably priced classes on a flexible schedule to accommodate students from all walks of life.


The Art Students League was founded in 1875 by a group of artists – almost all of whom were students at the National Academy of Design in New York City and many of whom were women. The artists declared their intention to found a new school by pinning a notice on the bulletin board of the Academy inviting students and instructors to attend a meeting. This occurred when it was rumored that the National Academy, due to financial difficulties, would cancel all classes temporarily, forcing students to forgo drawing from life for a significant period of time. Also at that time, in the post-Civil War era, New York City was rapidly becoming the artistic capital of the nation. However, many young artists, influenced by modern European developments, felt that the Academy’s instruction was too conservative and unsympathetic to their new ideas about art.

The League opened its school on the top floor of a building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 16th Street. Classes were conducted in one small half-room. Lemuel E. Wilmarth, who taught at the National Academy of Design, was elected the first president of The Art Students League and became its first instructor. More students and artists joined, and by the end of the first season, the League was renting the entire floor. Courses were funded by membership fees alone. This was a unique policy that ensured the League’s ability to function as the only independent art school in the country, and the only one in which the life class, a crucial element, was available every weekday.

The League began and continues to be a collection of studios, each autonomous and directed by the creative authority and counsel of the individual instructor without interference from the administration – a tradition that ensures that students are able to choose among a wide range of modes of expression. This framework, based on the nineteenth-century French atelier system, enabled a pluralistic and inclusive education – one that cultivated both the technical and intellectual components essential to developing the skills of visual artists.

Below are some rare photographs from the Art Students League of New York in 1955:

These two students looking like ravishing lovelies were boys with a flair for dressing up.

The guy on the right is telling the two sweet young students that he represents a well-plucked chicken.

When the ball was over he kissed her goodbye, and said to her sadly with the ghost of a sigh, “Alas, I must leave you, now isn’t it a shame, for I’ve not had the time to ask you your name.”

Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Bighead, we presume.

Wrong again – just another pair of whacky students.

As students of art, these three make a delightful trio of throwbacks. Throwbacks to what? Don’t know, really. Archaeologists haven’t found anything that throws itself quite as far back as this.

The lady with the fevvers is Roguel Mendoza. She could do with less plumage in her headdress and more elsewhere.

Anna Larenciba came draped in silver four-leaf clover.

And this lady came in–came in–er–say, what a lovely tiara.

(Photographs: Pictorial Press, scanned by John Seven)




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