Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Edward Livingston, 19 January 1803

From Edward Livingston

New York Jany 19. 1803.


I take the liberty of enclosing for your perusal the outline of a plan lately formed in this city for promoting the cultivation of the fine arts. having seen and admired the master pieces they have produced abroad I am sure it will be gratifying to your love of country that an attempt should be made to improve them at home. under this impression no apology I believe is necessary for asking your patronage and advice in the progress of the undertaking

I have added to it the project of another plan which tho entirely local may perhaps not be wholly void of interest, if you should find liesure for its perusal—I am with the greatest Respect Sir Your Mo Obd Ser

Edward Livingston

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “The President of the US”; endorsed by TJ as received 26 Jan. and so recorded in SJL. Enclosures not found, but see below.

plan lately formed: at the urging of his brother Edward, Robert R. Livingston, while minister to France, agreed to procure and send to New York casts “of all the finest antique statues” to serve as the foundation of a gallery and school of sculpture. A subscription of $50 shares, in the summer of 1802, raised about $3,000 to purchase the models, and it was proposed that a society be formed to establish an adequate fund to continue the acquisitions. On 4 Dec., the Morning Chronicle printed the minutes of the first official meeting of the New-York Academy of the Fine Arts, with Edward Livingston elected president and Peter Irving, editor of the Chronicle, secretary. On 22 Jan., the newspaper included an article signed by Livingston outlining the goals of the new society. An increase in the number of shares to 500 would raise $25,000 to complete the collection of casts and to procure good copies of the best masters of painting, “together with a few originals,” as well as a selection of architectural models and plans. They would be exhibited at a gallery open to the public for an admission fee. Livingston envisioned using the collection as the foundation of the first school for the fine arts in the United States (New York Daily Advertiser, 30 June 1802; New York Morning Chronicle, 27 Oct. 1802, 22 Jan. 1803; Kline, Burr description begins Mary-Jo Kline, ed., Political Correspondence and Public Papers of Aaron Burr, Princeton, 1983, 2 vols. description ends , 2:744n; Richard A. Harrison, Princetonians, 1776–1783: A Biographical Dictionary [Princeton, 1981], 331–2). In 1808, the New York state legislature incorporated the society as “The American Academy of the Arts” (The Charter and By-Laws of the American Academy of the Arts. With an Account of the Statues, Busts, Paintings, Prints, Books, and Other Property Belonging to the Academy [New York, 1817], 3).

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