In The Studio Days

Helena asleep with Rodman in her arms


"Helena described the Gilder living room. There were 'great shelves for casts and books and nails for everything.' The Gilders had been given a hammock for a wedding present, which was slung "across one corner of the room with a beautiful leopard skin below it,' Helena Gilder continued to paint, stopping only briefly when each of her seven children arrived."

"On a Saturday in early June, Gus Saint-Gaudens, rang the bell at an iron gate leading to a flagstone walk bordered by flowers. 'It was noon and I was home for lunch,' Richard wrote. 'I ran down to the gate and I can tell you there was a high wind blowing. Saint-Gaudens was 'mad as hops' because they had just thrown out a piece of sculpture of his from the Academy (National Academy of Design) exhibit and he was ready to go into a new movement. I told him to come around that evening.' Gilder got hold of Walter Shirlaw and Wyatt Eaton and that evening they founded the Society of American Artists; Shirlaw, president; Saint-Gaudens, vice-president; Eaton, secretary, and Helena, a mere member willing to do most of the secretary's work. They changed the name to the American Art Association at the next meeting. Louis Tiffany joined at a third meeting and said he knew where he could raise some money. In Paris, Saint-Gaudens joyfully took on the job of getting young American artists to join and send work to New York for the first exhibit."

- both quotes above from "Saint-Gaudens and the Gilded Age"by Louise Hall Thorp.

National Academy of Design

"It had originally been a carriage house, the large room where we have spent so many pleasant evenings, owed its dimensions to this previous occupancy, and had been altered into a dwelling for the uses of a young couple. Of these, the wife was one of the four who had met the previous June and, though she has abandoned the practice of her art for a social sphere, in which her talents find equal employment, she was at that time an active member of the Society. The husband was hardly less interested and influential in those earlier days. The meeting had been called to order when I entered with Eaton, but the proceedings were suspended to greet (me). So informal were the customs of the new Society, that, when the proceedings were resumed, no one appeared to to mark the presence of a non-member, until (I) called their attention to the fact.

There was a moment's pause, and then with much heartiness, someone proposed my election. It seemed but proper that I should retire during the ballot, and so the hostess conducted me to an upper room, apologizing for leaving me in the dark and cautioning me to keep quiet, lest I should arouse an infant sleeping in the cradle.

In a very few minutes Eaton came to give me the welcome news that I was the fifteenth elected member."

-from "A Chronicle of Friendships 1873-1900" by Will H. Low


Helena in her studio, 103 East 15th Street, drawn by Vernon Howe Bailey for a Century Magazine article: "Life-work and Homes of Richard Watson Gilder" by Maria Horner Lonsdale


Another Photo of Richard


"Post-Civil War prosperity effected an artistic awakening in some sections of America, most notably New York City, which in the 1870s was rapidly becoming the artistic capital of the nation. Its major art institution, the National Academy of Design (founded in 1825), was one of the oldest organizations of its kind in America. Representation in one of its annual exhibitions was a significant accomplishment for an artist; and election to full membership was indeed a paramount goal for many. By the mid-1870s, however, artists and art students in New York increasingly realized that the Academy was no longer adequate to serve the needs of their growing profession.

Many young artists returning from their studies abroad were 'au courant' with the most modern European developments. They felt that the established members of the Academy were conservative by comparison and thus unsympathetic to their relatively radical ideas and more sophisticated attitudes toward art. One progressive group found support at the home of Richard Watson Gilder, editor of The Century Magazine, and his wife Helena de Kay Gilder. The informal gatherings at which these artists exchanged ideas about art began as early as 1874 and climaxed three years later when they formed the Society of American Artists. In great part, this development reflected the conflict between the "old guard" at the National Academy and the young rebels: conservative versus progressive, insular as opposed to cosmopolitan.

It was also prompted by the fact that there was just not enough exhibition space to accommodate the rapidly growing number of artists flocking to the city. The annual exhibitions of the Society of American Artists helped to alleviate this problem, and the Society itself provided the more progressive artists with their own forum.

A similar development took place in the spring of 1875, when it was rumored that the National Academy, due to financial difficulties, would cancel all classes until December. Students were alarmed. The Academy required them to devote the first ten weeks of each school session to drawing from the antique; so if this were true, they would not get to paint from life, their main interest, until February of the following year. Even more distressing was another rumor; if classes did resume, there might not be any instructor hired to direct them. The fact that their teacher Lemuel Wilmarth had not been asked to serve this function seemed to substantiate the story. Since there were no alternative means by which art students could engage in any formal course of study from live models, the students were particularly eager to deal with this dire situation before it was too late.

They met with Wilmarth to discuss the matter. The result of their meeting was the formation of the Art Students League. From the start, it was evident that the founding of the Art Students League was precipitated by the possible cancellation of the Academy's classes. In addition, the students were dissatisfied with the rigid and limited course of study the Academy offered. They identified, and soon aligned themselves with, those artists who would soon form the Society of American Artists (and who would later become the chief instructors at the League)."

-from "" (History)