Masterworks: 225 Years of Collecting

November 21, 2015–September 4, 2016

In 2016, the Albany Institute of History & Art will celebrate its 225th birthday. Few organizations have such distinguished histories or can claim they were founded when George Washington was president. On February 26, 1791, a group of forward-thinking men met in New York City's Federal Hall- the very building where Washington took the oath of office less than two years earlier- and reviewed and accepted the bylaws for the Institute's direct ancestor, the Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures. Six years later, in 1797, the Society moved with the New York State Legislature to Albany and commenced a long process of transformation from a learned society with interests mainly in agricultural and manufacturing improvements to a museum of art and history. During those years, the Society integrated other organizations and underwent several changes in name, finally becoming the Albany Institute of History & Art in 1926 with a mission to collect and document the arts, history, and culture of the Upper Hudson Valley.

Not surprisingly, over the past 225 years, the Institute has amassed the foremost collection of fine and decorative arts connected with the Upper Hudson Valley region of New York, including early colonial portraiture and silver, Hudson River School paintings, finely crafted furniture, decorated ceramics, and contemporary works by artists of national recognition, to name just a few.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the special exhibition, Masterworks: 225 Years of Collecting, presents works from the Institute's collection of exceptional artistic merit and craftsmanship that were made in the Upper Hudson Valley or brought to the region by patrons, consumers, collectors, and connoisseurs. This anniversary exhibition also reveals stories about the process of acquisition, of how the Institute assembled some of its best-known collections, such as its Hudson River School paintings, holdings of regional silver, the familiar cast iron stoves, and the significant collection of early Dutch portraits and scripture paintings. Today, these collections are recognized and valued worldwide.

Masterworks: 225 Years of Collecting also includes a timeline of the Institute's 225-year history embedded with objects and images of influential individuals and important acquisitions. The history of the Institute's collections narrates the growth and development of one of the nation's oldest museums and reflects broader trends in American culture and society.

Image: French Style Bed, Charles-Honore Lannuier (1779-1819), c. 1817, mahogany, burl elm veneer, ash with gilt and vert antique decoration (now black), eastern white pine, soft maple and hard maple, cherry, rosewood veneers, cut brass inlays, and ormolu mounts, Gift of Constance Van Rensselaer Thayer (Mrs. William) Dexter, great-granddaughter of Stephen Van Rensselaer IV, 1951.61