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Clubs Gave Arts a Social Dimension

The Newton Club's art exhibitions in the 1890s played an important role in the careers of many Newton artists. (Image from a postcard)

Social clubs devoted to cultural activities were a major feature of the arts landscape in Boston. In 1882, the Boston Art Club (founded in 1855 and the grande dame of Boston art clubs) built a new clubhouse at the corner of Dartmouth and Newbury streets, two blocks away from the Museum of Fine Arts (above left). The St. Botolph Club, the Society of Arts and Crafts, the Boston Art Students' Association, which later became the Copley Society, and the Guild of Boston Artists were among the many clubs and organizations sponsoring art shows where Newton artists and others showed their work.

Ease of transportation also meant that the suburban public could get into the city and according to Henry K. Rowe (History of Newton, 1930), "Newton people patronized the art clubs and attended the art exhibitions in Boston."

The Boston Art Club's new home, built in 1877. (Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library)

Newtonites also had opportunities to support artists locally. A great number of social and cultural events took place at the Newton Club, which built a large Colonial Revival style clubhouse in Newtonville in 1891. In the mid-1890s, the club staged a series of impressive art exhibitions organized by Mayor Henry E. Cobb, reportedly an art connoisseur, and the artist Louis K. Harlow, who lived in Waban.

These exhibitions were serious efforts to offer the public a chance to enjoy art as well as to provide artists with an opportunity to exhibit and sell their work. The Newton Journal, commenting on an 1896 exhibition at the Newton Club (Newton Journal, January 31, 1896) gave insight into the perceived benefits of art to the community:

Everybody, of course, admits that the Newton Club is a most potent influence upon the social life of our community. But the effect of its influence does not stop there -- because any institution that stimulates and develops the better social life of a people -- at the same time enhances the value of landed property. During the next ten years we are going to see a wonderful increase in the wealth and population of Newton, which will come to us largely by reason of the social and progressive character of our people.

The artist Edwin Weeks, who grew up in Newton and found international success, frequently lent both artistic and social cachet to the club's events. Under the heading "Newton Club Affairs" the Newton Journal described an event at the club: "At the Newton club last evening, Edwin Lord Weeks, the artist, now of Paris but formerly of Newton, was tendered an informal reception. There were present at the dinner Mr. Weeks [and] the art committee of the club consisting of Messrs. Cobb, Harlow and Bullivant. A number of Mr. Weeks' painting were on exhibition and will remain there so that friends of club members who care to see them may do so." (Newton Journal, November 11, 1895)

A year later the newspaper noted the "Auspicious Opening of the Third Annual Art Exhibit of the Newton Club" and included mention that ". . . there are quite a number of painting from the continent and one by Edwin Weeks, which came from Paris Saturday night. It is called "The Close of Day in Persia," and is a fine example of his best work." (Newton Journal, December 11, 1896)