Calling itself the “Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints,” Currier & Ives was a firm of printmakers and publishers founded in New York in 1834 by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888) and, after 1857, headed by Currier and his partner, James Merritt Ives (1824–1895). It was one of the most successful commercial publishers of hand-colored lithographs in nineteenth-century America, producing more than 7,500 titles and selling hundreds of thousands of prints during their seventy-three years of operation.
Among the firm’s images, a limited collection of large and medium folio prints presented the work of important New York artists in lithographic form. The drawings, paintings, and prints in this exhibition are the work of two of these artists: Frances Flora Bond Palmer (1812–1876) and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1819–1905). They reveal the artists’ accomplishments with the crayon and brush and highlight the lithographic and coloring processes developed in collaboration with publishers to translate artistic visions into reality. Considered fine prints rather than commercial lithographs, these pictures are among today’s most sought-after Currier & Ives prints.
The work of Palmer and Tait was highly collaborative. Most of the large and medium folio prints in this exhibition cannot be attributed to the hand of a single artist. Rather, they are the result of the combined efforts of artists, draftsmen, colorists, printers, and publishers. Palmer and Tait both embraced this model of joint authorship, which is rooted in the Renaissance workshop tradition. Such practices did not deny an individual’s artistic authority but recognized that a master’s work was expected to be supplemented, modified, or revised by others in charge of specialized tasks. The lithographs of Frances Palmer and Arthur Tait published by Currier & Ives testify to the persistence of centuries-old artistic practices at the heart of an innovative firm—one that contributed to the rise of mass visual culture in nineteenth-century America.