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Art Union Prints

Apollo Association and American Art Union

James Herring of New York formed the Apollo Association in 1839 to promote the fine arts by exhibitions and the reproduction of paintings. This concept had originated in Germany and spread to Great Britain and to the United States. The Apollo Association evolved into the American Art Union. Later, other similar organizations were formed in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Boston, and Newark

Cosmopolitan Art Association

The Cosmopolitan Art Association was founded in 1854 to "encourage and popularize the Fine Arts, and disseminate wholesome literature throughout the country." Started by the book and periodical publisher Chauncey Lyman Derby in Sandusky, Ohio, the organization moved to New York and established a presence on Broadway. For an annual payment of three dollars, the Association offered its members a year's subscription to a popular periodical of their choice (including such titles as Godey's Lady's Book, Harper's Weekly, and Graham's Magazine), or a copy of a large format engraving published by the society. In addition, subscribers received a ticket for a chance to win a work of art in the Association's annual art lottery.

During the seven years of its existence, the Association issued five large format engravings for its membership, which at its peak in 1857 numbered 38,000. The engravings were printed in large runs (often over 8,000), and were intended to appeal to broad audiences.

The Crosby Opera House Art Association

The Crosby Opera House Art Association (est. 1865 -1867) was formed on the art union model with the sole purpose of raising funds through a lottery to defray the cost of building an opera house in Chicago. Uranus H. Crosby, who had made his fortune as a distiller, had begun construction on the opera house during the Civil War and claimed losses of $600,000 on the project. He needed to raise cash in order to allow the Opera House to open. The Association was formed and the lottery was planned. The Opera House itself was the first prize in the lottery. Many American and European paintings, some from Crosby's own art collection, were also used as prizes. Each person who purchased a lottery ticket for $5.00 was also given a pictorial print published by the Association as a bonus. Many thousands of each of the five engravings and one lithograph listed below were printed and distributed to ticket purchasers between 1865 and early 1867.

The lottery drawing caused quite a stir in Chicago when it was held in January of 1867, with hopeful participants pouring into the city to see if they would win a painting or the Opera House. People bought chances right up until the last possible moment and many, many prints were distributed. The Chicago Republican reported on January 19, 1867, that it was "very noticeable on the street yesterday, that nearly everyone met had in his or her hands a long roll of blue, white or red paper -- an infallible proof that they had courted the fickle goddess, and bourne off in triumph at least a beautiful engraving. . .." It is estimated that 210,000 chances were sold and that a comparable number of engravings and lithographs were also given away.

Bibliographical references:

Jay Cantor, Prints and the American Art-Union, in Prints in and of America to 1850 (Winterthur, The Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, 1970).

Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art-Union (New York: New-York Historical Society, 1953.

Lauren B. Hewes, "'Dedicated to the lovers of art and literature,' The Cosmopolitan Art Association Engravings, 1856-1861," Imprint Vol. 31, No. 2 (Autumn 2006), 2-17.

Maybelle Mann, The American Art-Union (Jupiter, Florida, 1977 and 1987).

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