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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

National Museum of American Illustration


Fig. 1: Vernon Court's West Façade facing the historic Bellevue Avenue © 2011 National Museum of American Illustration™ Newport RI 02840.

Founded in 1998 by husband and wife team Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence S. Cutler, the National Museum of American Illustration art (NMAI) is the first institution in the country to be devoted entirely to American illustration (Fig. 1). A private, nonprofit organization, the NMAI was originally built to house the Cutlers' personal art collection, an assemblage of works from the Golden Age of American illustration, a period lasting from 1895 until 1945. The Golden Age was a direct result of the vast improvements in printing technology at a time when newspapers, magazines, and illustrated books were the main source of media. No longer constrained by the limits of the medium, illustrators were able to freely experiment with color and new techniques. With assistance from the National Arts Club, a private club devoted to promoting public interest in the arts, the NMAI opened its doors to the public in 2000.

Located on Newport's historic Bellevue Avenue, the NMAI is flanked by The Breakers (Cornelius Vanderbilt's summer home), George Wetnscore's Chateau-Sur-Mer (the first of the Avenue's mansions), and H.H. Richardson's William Watts Sherman House (the first example of the decidedly American Shingle Style of architecture). The museum's building, Vernon Court, adds to Bellevue Avenue's ambience of by-gone lavishness. Built in 1898 by the esteemed architects John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings of Carrère & Hastings, Vernon Court is an interpretation of an eighteenth-century French chateau from the Golden Age of Architecture, which coincided in time with the illustration art in the collection. Carrère and Hastings, who are the architects responsible for the New York Public Library, the Neue Gallery, and the Frick Collection, all located in Manhattan, and the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida, originally built Vernon Court for the wife of noted New York sportsman, Richard van Nest Gambrill.
Fig. 2: Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966), Aquamarine, 1917. Oil on panel © 2011 National Museum of American Illustration™ Newport RI 02840.

Vernon Court's interior, designed by Jules et ses Fils of Paris, the most notable interior designers at the turn of the twentieth century, perpetuates the air of grandeur. The Marble Hall, Petit Salon, and Ballroom, were all modeled after the famously extravagant Marie Antoinette suites at the Palace of Versailles. Once inside, visitors of the NMAI can also view ceiling murals by Tiffany Studios' muralist, James Wall Finn (1866–1913). Located in the museum's Tiffany Loggia room, the existing murals are the surviving works of what had been two separate murals that were commissioned by Vernon Court and completed by Finn in 1898.

Visitors of the NMAI can also roam the three-acre grounds inspired by Henry VIII's gardens at the Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, England. Featuring a formal sunken garden designed by the New York landsape architects Wadley & Smythe, the gardens are adjacent to Stoneacre, another three acres of grounds owned by the museum. Designed by the first American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), in 1884, the grounds once featured a mansion which was destroyed in the 1960s. Stoneacre was later restored as the Frederick Law Olmsted Park and features a mixture of native and exotic trees such as the Japanese Maple, English Oak, and Tulip Trees.

Fig. 3: J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951), Men with Golf Clubs, 1914. Oil on canvas, Arrow Collar advertisement © 2011 National Museum of American Illustration™ Newport RI 02840.

  Fig. 4: N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945), The Doryman, 1933. Oil on canvas, Trending into Maine by Kenneth Roberts, 1938 © 2011 National Museum of American Illustration™ Newport RI 02840.

Palatial gardens and lavish interiors aside, the NMAI's collection is unmatched. The largest of its kind in the world, the illustrations span all periods and styles. Comprised of original
artworks, prints (open as well as limited editions), significant memorabilia (such as Norman Rockwell's first paint box and Maxfield Parrish's stippling brushes), and a swath of photographic materials, the formation of the collection took over four decades to assemble. The museum exhibits approximately 125–150 works at a time in an ongoing rotation (some pieces are displayed permanently) in the five Courtyard level galleries. Highlights in the collection include the largest collection of original art works by Parrish (1870–1966) (Fig. 2), the second largest collection of originals by Norman Rockwell (1894–1978), the largest J.C. Leyendecker (1874–1951) (Fig. 3) collection, and works by Howard Pyle (1853–1911), NC Wyeth (1882–1945) (Fig. 4), Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863–1935), Violet Oakley (1874–1961), and many others. The museum also exhibits decorative arts and period furnishings in order to place the illustrations in a historical and aesthetic context. The NMAI has acquired furniture by Jules Allard (1859–1945) as well as sculptures by Hiram Powers (1805–1873) and Joseph Mozier (1812–1870).

During the 2011 summer season the NMAI will be exhibiting seventy original works by Norman Rockwell in the show, Norman Rockwell's America. These paintings had previously been displayed at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, one of England's oldest art museums best known for their impressive Old Master collection.

National Museum of American Illustration
Vernon Court, 492 Bellevue Avenue, Newport,
RI 02840. For information call 401.851.8949
or visit
Memorial Day–Labor Day: Monday–Tuesday, Closed; Wednesday–Thursday, open by advance reservation; Friday, open for guided tour-3pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11am–5pm
Fall/Winter: Monday–Thursday, open by advance reservation; Friday, open for guided tour-3pm; Saturday–Sunday, closed