John F. Kensett. "Mount Washington. From the Valley of Conway."
New York: American Art-Union, 1851. Engraved by James Smillie. 7 x 10 3/8. Repaired tear (1 3/4 long diagonal tear in lower margin, to the left of the title.). Overall, very good condition.
The American Art Union (1839-1851) was an organization created to support contemporary American art and to develop a popular appreciation of it. The AAU was organized, by James Herring, in 1839 as the “Apollo Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in the United States,” a name it kept for the first five years. An individual would join the AAU for a small fee, and the funds were used to purchase original paintings and to produce engravings from these, though some of the first prints were from borrowed paintings. The engravings were distributed to the members of the union, and the original art was then raffled off. The association also held a continuing exhibit of American art at its “perpetual free gallery.” While the union had a rocky start, it expanded greatly, increasing to almost 19,000 subscribers in 1849.
The AAU is well known today for the thirty-six engravings it published based on the paintings of some of the most luminous names in American art, e.g. George Caleb Bingham, Thomas Cole, F.O.C. Darley, R.C. Woodville, Asher B. Durand, and William Sidney Mount. The association is especially important for the seminal role it played in stimulating American art and for spreading an awareness of this art throughout the country. With its gallery and thousands of subscribers, the AAU probably had more to do than any other force with the success of many of America’s nineteenth century artists and the popularization of their work. The legacy of the American Art Union is immense and its prints are an important part of that.