Dramatic Change: Vose Galleries in the 1860s

The 1860s brought dramatic change to Seth Vose's Providence art supply business. In addition to selling art materials and frames, Seth began to act as a dealer for local artists. He attained the reputation of a respected art dealer, and would quickly become a source of advice and critical evaluation for famous artists of the period. Gallery records show early dealings and consultations with Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), William Bradford (1823-1892), William and James Hart (1823-1894, 1828-1901), R. Swain Gifford (1840 – 1905), George L. Brown (1814-1889), Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), and William Trost Richards (1833-1905), Daniel Huntington (1819-1906), and John F. Kensett (1816-1872).

Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)
Shore Scene: Point Judith
Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Seth was admired for his critical eye and innovative purchases, as well as his perseverance. In 1861, Seth fought a nearly fatal battle with lock-jaw, during which he was forced to knock out his own front tooth in order to take sustenance. Upon his miraculous recovery, he returned to discover that his partner, Henry C. Jenckes, had brought the gallery to near ruin:

"... he found that his partner had committed the firm far beyond its resources to a purchase of the plate glass used for framing pictures. When he refused to consider bankruptcy as an easy solution, a group of fellow art dealers, headed by Roland Knoedler, bought up the outstanding obligations and handed them to Seth, marked ‘paid'. Within two years after this amazing gesture from his competitors, Seth had justified their faith and reimbursed them in full."*

Seth's dedication and industrious spirit would increase not only his reputation, but his collection of paintings as well. By the latter half of the 19th century, Seth had established a degree of respect and admiration that would ensure his place in history as one of America's foremost art dealers.

*Yankee Magazine, "Story of the Vose Galleries" by Jack Post, Sept. 1973.

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