See 400 years of American History - in one place, in one afternoon. The New-York Historical Society is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the country. It combines timely and substantive special exhibitions with unparalleled museum and library collections for the study of New York and early U.S. history.
The collections span the nation's history from the Revolutionary War to the present, with 40,000 objects ranging from George Washington's camp bed at Valley Forge to the world's largest collection of Tiffany lamps, and manuscripts by U.S. Presidents.
At the New-York Historical Society, we believe that knowing where we came from helps us understand who we are now.
What are the Current Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society?
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion
Through April 19, 2015
Behind every face is a story -- and this is a story that is central to us all. This exhibition examines the long, complex, and often troubled relationship between China and the US and raises the question, "What does it mean to be an American?" The show is peopled with extraordinary individuals who were influenced by domestic and world events.
Within the exhibition, rich in media and artifacts, will be little-known stories relating to China, such as the voyage of the Empress of China, which set sail from New York in the late eighteenth century; how young Chinese boys were sent by their government to study at elite New England schools during the nineteenth century, one of whom went on to graduate from Yale University; the unprecedented immigration legislation known as the Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred most Chinese from entering the United States; the nineteenth-century newspaper, called Chinese American, and its founder Wong Ching Foo; and the Chinese American activists who used the American justice system to try to overturn the Exclusion Act.
Marching to Freedom: Selma/Montgomery
Through April 19, 2015
This exhibit features the stunning and historic photographs of Stephen
Somerstein, documenting the Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March in
January 1965. Somerstein was a student in City College of New York's
night school and Picture Editor of his student newspaper when he
traveled to Alabama to document the March.
He joined the marchers and gained unfettered access to everyone from
Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin.
"I had five cameras slung around my neck," he recalled. Over the
five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein took about four hundred photographs
including poignant images of hopeful blacks lining the rural roads as
they cheered on the marchers walking past their front porches and whites
crowded on city sidewalks, some looking on silently-others jeering as
the activists walked to the Alabama capital. Somerstein sold a few
photographs to the New York Times Magazine, Public Television and
photography collectors, but none were exhibited until 2010, when he
participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art
Rather than choosing photography as a career, Somerstein became a
physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory and at Lockhead Martin Company. It was only after his
retirement in 2008 that he returned to his photography remarking that he
wanted "to have exhibitions of my work and that I realized that I had
numerous iconic as well as historic photographs." Among those
photographs were his moving photographs of that memorable march to
Montgomery in 1965.
Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight (Part III of The Complete Flock)
Through May 10, 2015
III of the highly acclaimed tripartite series Audubon’s Aviary: The
Complete Flock will continue showcasing masterpieces from the New-York
Historical Society collection of John James Audubon’s preparatory
watercolors for the sumptuous double-elephant-folio print edition of The
Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr. Part III of
The Complete Flock will highlight Audubon’s watercolor models for Havell
plates 306–435 (fascicles 62–87). At this time he was rushing to
complete his great work and, therefore, represented the outliers and
western species to bookend the North American continent.
To See Jerusalem Before I Die: Abraham Lincoln and the Jews
Through June 7, 2015
the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s
assassination, this exhibition focuses on the significant, and hitherto
unknown, relationships and interactions between Abraham Lincoln and his
Jewish friends and associates. At a time when Jews comprised less than
one-half of one percent of the American population, and with the country
rampant with prejudice, Lincoln’s positive and meaningful personal
relationships with Jewish individuals not only arguably changed him but
also had an important and lasting impact on the status of American Jews.
Lincoln stood up to his anti-Semitic generals even as he depended upon
them to win the war, and became an advocate for Jewish equality and
Through never-before displayed original documents,
artifacts, photographs, Lincoln's own writings, and first person
accounts primarily from the Shapell Manuscript Collection, the
exhibition will trace events in Lincoln’s life through the lens of his
Jewish contemporaries, such as Abraham Jonas, who became Lincoln’s
political strategist and “most valued friend,” and Issachar Zacharie,
his enigmatic confidant. Furthermore, the exhibition will explore
Lincoln’s profound interest in and connection to the Old Testament, as
exemplified in his wish to see Jerusalem before he died.
The Triumphal Return of Taddeo Gaddi's Maestà Conserved
Through October 4, 2015
After a two-year absence for conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum,
the New-York Historical Society's Virgin and Child Enthroned with Ten
Saints: Maesta returns. Painted ca. 1334 by Taddeo Gaddi, the major
disciple of Giotto, the jewel-like panel will take pride of place in a
small focus exhibition highlighting its conservation treatment. Thomas
Jefferson Bryan, an early connoisseur of Italian "primitives," i.e.,
painters before Raphael, bequeathed the Gaddi panel to New-York
Historical in 1867, along with his entire collection. As New York City's
first museum, New-York Historical wrote an early chapter in preserving
the culture of the City, and Bryan played a pioneering role in its
collecting history, amassing works by both European and American
artists. Fittingly, Gaddi's painting will be displayed with a several
other fourteenth- and early-fifteenth-century Italian panels from the
With its lavish gold leaf background, Gaddi's panel was an expensive
commission for a private Florentine palazzo and for its time was
cutting-edge art. Originally the central section of a folding triptych
consisting of three panels, it will be exhibited with two wings
(sportelli) from a private collection that recently have been linked to
it. Their similar dates, measurements, traces of hinges, and related
iconographies suggest that the trio may once have been part of the same
triptych. At the very least, seen together they help us to envision and
reconstruct how the Maestà appeared in its original glory. It was
recently shown at both the Getty and the Art Gallery of Ontario,
Toronto, in the major exhibition Florence at the Dawn of the
Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300-1350.
New York Story
You know the city -- now be enthralled by the stories. Witness New York's rise from remote outpost to city at the center of the world in this 18-minute panoramic film experience shown on a 75-foot screen in surround-sound.
We were absolutely blown away by the film which manages to convey more about New York and its history than one could ever imagine being crammed into 18 minutes.
- Carol Leimas NYC
United States 1933 Double Eagle
On display is one of the most famous and storied coins in the world—the
1933 Double Eagle. The Double Eagle will be on display in The Robert H.
& Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History starting August
9. Designed by the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the coin
features the figure of Liberty striding before the Capitol Building on
its face and an eagle in flight on the reverse.
In 1933 the United States struck almost a half million twenty-dollar
gold coins, commonly known as Double Eagles. At virtually the same time,
in one of his first acts as President, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an
Executive Order banning the payout of gold, weaning the country off the
gold standard. The 1933 Double Eagles, although legally made, became
illegal to own and were never circulated. In 1934, two were sent to the
Smithsonian Institution for posterity, and in February 1937 the rest
were melted into gold bars and sent to Fort Knox—or so it seemed.
In 1944, a 1933 Double Eagle appeared in a New York auction, and the
United States Secret Service determined that a U.S. Mint employee had
stolen a number of the coins in 1937, and identified ten 1933 Double
Eagles that had escaped destruction, of which nine were surrendered or
seized. One was beyond reach, as it had been purchased by King Farouk of
Egypt, and after 1954 it disappeared. In 1996 a British coin dealer was
arrested while trying to sell a 1933 Double Eagle, which he swore had
formerly belonged to King Farouk.
In 2002, the coin was sold at auction for $7,590,020, nearly doubling
the previous world record. That very coin—the only 1933 Double Eagle
which may be legally owned by an individual—will be on display at
New-York Historical, on temporary loan from an anonymous private
collection. objects that are talismans of past lives.Toy Trains!
What are Upcoming Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society
The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld
May 22, 2015-October 12, 2015
Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) brought a set of visual conventions to the task of performance portraiture when he made his debut in 1926. His signature work, defined by a linear calligraphic style made his name a verb to be "Hirschfelded" was a sign that one has arrived. Now for the first time, nine decades of his art are collected in The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld documenting Hirschfeld's life and career and, to a great extent, the history of the performing arts in the twentieth century and beyond.
The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld examines his influences, his iconography, and his techniques, from his earliest works to his last drawings. Visitors will have the opportunity to trace this unique artist's evolution by viewing his own body of work, including drawings, paintings, selections from sketchbooks, ephemera, and video. The exhibition is being organized in partnership with the Al Hirschfeld Foundation and is guest-curated by David Leopold, the Foundation's Archivist.
Lafayette's Hermione: Voyage 2015
May 29, 2015-October 25, 2015
"She sails like a bird," the Marquis de Lafayette wrote about the Hermione, the ship that carried him and a decisive stache of arms across the Atlantic in aid of the nascent American Revolution. During the summer of 2015, a reconstructed Hermione returns to America, leaving from France and spending the weekend of the Fourth of July in New York. The New-York Historical Society exhibition focuses on both the recreated ship and Lafayette himself, the Boy General whose close friendship with George Washington and diplomatic networks in Paris helped win the war. The show focuses on Lafayette's early years from his initial advocacy on behalf of the Revolution in the late 1770s to the Hermione's voyage in 1780 and the events leading to the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781.
Picasso's Le Tricorne
May 29, 2015- Ongoing
In Spring 2015, the New-York Historical Society will display its newly acquired and conserved Picasso in the exhibition Picasso's Le Tricorne. It is the first work by Picasso, and one with great wall power and a New York history, to enter New-York Historical's collection.
Pablo Picasso painted the stage curtain for the two-act ballet The Three-Cornered Hat (“El sombrero de tres picos” or “Le tricorne”). The ballet and curtain were commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev for his avant-garde, Paris-based Ballets Russes, the most influential ballet company of the twentieth-century. The ballet was choreographed by Léonide Massine with music by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. It premiered on July 22, 1919, at the Alhambra Theatre in London with sets, costume designs, and the monumental stage curtain created by Picasso. Picasso biographer John Richardson once called “Le Tricorne” the artist’s “supreme theatrical achievement.” The production, which was conceived by Diaghilev and Massine during a trip to Spain, was enhanced by its many Spanish collaborators, including Picasso who also designed the costumes and set for the ballet.
Superheroes in Gotham
October 9, 2015-February 21, 2016
Comic book superheroes are a part of our daily lives. They engage our imaginations on the pages of comic books, television and movie screens, as well as the Broadway stage and in the virtual world of gaming. Contemporary literature and art reference them; adults and children alike delight in donning superhero t-shirts, caps, and sneakers. Since their introduction in the late 1930s, superheroes have been powerful role models, inspirational and enviable. Based on mythological archetypes, they reflect, respond to, and offer ways to navigate the twists and turns of modern life. Comic books are a great American art form, a cultural phenomenon born in New York City that now extends around the globe. Superheroes in Gotham will tell the story of the birth of comic book superheroes in New York City; the leap of comic book superheroes from the page into radio, television, and film; the role of fandom, including the yearly mega event known as New York Comic Con; and the ways in which comic book superheroes, created in the late 1930s through the 1960s, have inspired and influenced the work of contemporary comic book artists, cartoonists, and painters in New York City.
Holiday Express: Toys and Trains from the Jerni Collection
October 20, 2015-February 22, 2016
The New-York Historical Society will be transformed this holiday season with the installation of a spectacular exhibit of treasures from the renowned Jerni Collection, now owned by the New-York Historical Society, of model trains, scenic elements and toys. The dynamic display will appeal to all age groups, showcasing the beauty and allure of toys from a bygone era.
The Holiday Express exhibition will unfold over a broad swath of New-York Historical’s first floor, featuring pieces from the Jerni Collection that will transform the space into a magical wonderland. With the aid of theatrical lighting, an ambient audio “soundscape,” and other visual effects, visitors will be engaged in an immersive experience. The exhibition begins at the West 77th Street entrance, where movement and sound from four large-scale multimedia screens will make it seem as though trains are roaring through the space. A 360-degree mountainous landscape will be on view in the Judith and Howard Berkowitz Sculpture Court, featuring artifacts grouped into ten scenes.
Silicon City: Computer History Made in New York
November 13, 2015-April 10, 2016
Every 15 minutes, for nearly a year, 500 men, women, and children rose majestically into “the egg,” Eero Saarinen’s idiosyncratic theater at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was very likely their first introduction to computer logic. Computing was not new. But for the general public, IBM’s iconic pavilion was a high profile coming out party, and Silicon City will harness it to introduce New York’s role in helping midwife the digital age. Using images, artifacts, interactives, and oral histories, the exhibition will look back at local innovations that were key to computer development, from vacuum tubes and punched cards to transistors. And it will highlight pioneering work after the 1964 Fair, such as the computer graphics revolution born in New York City a decade later. Long before Silicon Valley became synonymous with all things digital, New York was a key hub for imagining, developing, and selling the technology that ultimately reshaped entertainment, commerce, and daily life.
What are Ongoing Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society?
The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History
Explore the story of New York and America in the newly designed Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. Highlights include:
Collection Highlights and New York and the American Experience
Mounted on the building's original 1904 columns are grand digital screens displaying a continuous, thematically co-ordinated slide show of treasures from the New-York Historical Society's collections. The west face of the columns features individual stations, incorporating interactive touch screens and museum artifacts, presenting six themes in American history which are found interwoven with the history of New York. Currently, the columns display a series of portraits featuring the model Editta Sherman, which were part of Bill Cunningham's Facades project. The series was shown here at the New-York Historical Society in 1976, in an exhibit entitled Fashions and Façades, under the guidance of curator Mary Black. Projected on dramatic flat screens affixed to six structural columns, the array of objects and images functions as visual signage that demonstrates to our visitors the depth of New-York Historical's collections. Visitors can access images and information about our App.
Liberty/Liberté by Fred Wilson
Upon entering the New-York Historical Society, the visitor encounters Fred Wilson's Liberty/ Liberté, an installation that offers the viewer access to the multiple layers of interpretation of the history and historical figures of the Age of Revolution.
New York Rising
The showpiece of the space occupies a forty-two-foot wall facing Central Park West, and illustrates New York's critical contribution to the founding of the United States. Covering the period from the American Revolution through to the New-York Historical Society's 1804 founding, a contemporary interpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style display uses some of New-York Historical's most treasured objects and cutting-edge technology to convey the historical narrative.
Out of the ashes of the British occupation of New York and Evacuation Day in November 1783 at the American Revolution's end, New York emerged as the first capital of the United States. It was where George Washington was inaugurated the first president; where the Northwest Ordinance, mandating westward expansion, was debated and signed in 1787; where the essays comprising the Federalist Papers advocating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution were written (by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay); where the First Congress sat in 1789; and where the Bill of Rights was introduced. As the place where Hamilton conceived of an American financial system, New York also became the American business capital of the country. Against the philosophical and intellectual framework of the Enlightenment, the New Yorkers who participated in the country's founding were immersed in an often-fractious atmosphere of debate, intellectual discourse, and political experimentation. In 1804, as this historical moment was passing, the New-York Historical Society was founded, motivated by an expressed need to collect items pertaining to the history of the state and of the nation, as well as the mission to capture and interpret not only the revolutionary and Federal eras, but the years to come. In so doing, New-York Historical deliberately participated in the creation of a self-consciously American culture.
Leah and Michael Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall
A 10-foot-high display case in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History showcases large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper that previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity.
History Under Your Feet
Under visitors' feet, the Smith Gallery also features nine porthole-like floorcases displaying objects found by avocational archaeologists and other professionals seeking history below the ground of New York City. Objects include arrowheads, military buttons, bullets and a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant nineteenth-century tavern.
here is new york
New-York Historical also displays a rotating selection from the approximately 6,200 photographs comprising the powerful here is new york collection of images taken in New York on and in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The collection echoes the Founding New Yorkers theme of resilience, renewal and transformation emerging from the ashes of catastrophic events. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.
Pop Shop Ceiling by Keith Haring
A ceiling mural by Keith Haring hangs above the admissions desk. The work is taken from the interior of the Pop Shop, which Haring opened in SoHo in 1986 to sell shirts, posters, and other merchandise reproducing his artwork. He painted the shop's entire interior in black-and-white. The mural was a gift from the Keith Haring Foundation upon the store's closing in 2005.
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture on the fourth floor provides public access to nearly 40,000 objects from the New-York Historical Society's permanent collection. In the Luce Center, visitors can see art and artifacts spanning four centuries, ranging from masterworks of American painting, to the nation's premiere collection of Tiffany lamps, to historical touchstones such as the draft wheel that played a role in one of the worst urban riots in United States history.
The Luce Center houses collections formerly kept in offsite storage. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at a working museum collection. In addition to a rich array of objects, small focus exhibitions highlight specific strengths of the collection and offer a historical context for current cultural, economic, political and social issues. Free handheld guides and cell phone tours allow visitors to hear the stories behind the objects on view.
Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
The life-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) that stand at either entrance to the New-York Historical Society bring to life the story of freedom that is deeply embedded in American history and is a primary focus of New-York Historical's programs. Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Lincoln emphasized a new birth of freedom for the United States and identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the nation's survival. Although Lincoln's home state was Illinois, it was New York politicians, journalists, and imagemakers who engineered his rise to the top of the Republican ticket in the 1860 election. His assassination in 1865 united New Yorkers, who turned out en masse to file by the casket lying in state at City Hall and participate in the funeral procession.
Portraits of the City
A group of approximately twenty paintings and two small sculptures offer visitors a chronological journey through highlights of the New-York Historical Society's rich collection of New York views, including historical images of the metropolis and richly allusive images of its inhabitants and their lives. The installation includes a selection of city views, beginning and ending with two monumental cityscapes, A Southeast Prospect of the City of New York from ca. 1756-1761 and Jacquette's From World Trade Center, 1998. It features portraits of political and cultural figures such as DeWitt Clinton, who oversaw the development of the Erie Canal, and Katharine Cornell, the first lady of the American theater in the 1920s and 1930s. It also illuminates the everyday lives of city dwellers through such works as Thain's Italian Block Party, 1922, and Blauvelt's images of New Yorkers at work in the 1850s.
Treasures of Shearith Israel
Objects and documents from the incomparable collection of Congregation Shearith Israel (established 1654), including manuscripts, maps, liturgical treasures and historical artifacts, are featured in the Henry Luce III Center for American Culture.
The history of New York's Jewish presence began in 1654 with the arrival of twenty-three refugees of Sephardic ancestry from Recife, Brazil. Soon after their arrival the group established a congregation, the first in North America. This foundation was the beginning of a rich legacy that has culminated in the growth of what is now one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and, importantly, set the stage for the religious and ethnic diversity for which our city and nation are known. Since its early inception, members of Congregation Shearith Israel have participated in the political, economic, and cultural life of New York and the United States, and have included colonial shipping merchants and master artisans, Revolutionary War patriots and loyalists, founders of the New York Stock Exchange, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Barnard College, numerous public officials, national educators, activists and poets.
The Games We Played: American Board and Table Games from the Liman Collection Gift
The Games We Played presents a rotating selection of board and table games from the Liman Collection, an extraordinary collection of more than 500 examples donated to New-York Historical by Ellen Liman in 2000. These games, which entertained families from the 1840s to the 1920s, offer a fascinating window on the values, beliefs and aspirations of middle-class Americans. During the period, families embraced leisure pursuits in the home and encouraged their children to play games that would develop skills and provide moral instruction. At the same time, advances in chromolithography allowed board game manufacturers, like New York City-based McLoughlin Brothers, to produce sumptuous, eye-catching games at affordable prices.
Works from the Permanent Collection
Christian Köhler's Germania ( in the Year 1848), 1849 (1882.154) is installed on the second to third floor stairwell. It was first exhibited in New York in 1850 and was immediately recognized as one of the most important paintings in the United States. An allegory of the German people's struggle for democracy, it was thought to have a safer resting place in New York than in Germany after the failed revolutions of 1848.
The work entered the New-York Historical Society's collections in 1882 and hung in the stairwell of New-York Historical's Second Avenue home. It had been on long-term loan to the Deutsches Historisches Museum since 1998, where it is the centerpiece of the 1848 section of the museum's permanent exhibition. The work finds particular resonance with Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware in the Met's American Wing. The Leutze's monumental, newly reconstructed frame is based on Mathew Brady photographs in New-York Historical's collection. Leutze's iconic work, begun in 1849, was seen by contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic as not only connecting the revolutions of 1776 and 1848, but also, like the Köhler, as a rallying cry for the cause of democracy. The third-floor landing features Tiffany Studios' five stained glass panels, Christ and the Good Shepherd of 1909 (N84.135, N84.136 and long-term loans from the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass), from the chapel of the Stony Wold Sanatorium in Lake Kushaqua, New York. The Sanatorium was founded to provide treatment for tuberculosis for working women and children from New York City—it provided a "wilderness cure" in the open air.
Martorell's From Here To There
Created by Antonio Martorell and friends, this mixed media installation in the New-York Historical Society's Luce Center reflects on the theme of Puerto Rican migration to New York which reached its heights in the 1940s and 1950s. Curving walls and rows of seats evoke the interior of a mid-century airplane cabin.
From Here to There is inspired by an essay titled "La guagua aerea," or "The Air Bus," by Luis Rafael Sánchez. Like Sánchez's essay, Martorell uses air travel to describe migration, leaving ambiguous which destination is "there" and which is "here" to emphasize that the movement of people and ideas is not all one way. The installation also serves as a theater for the projection of a documentary by Ric Burns. The seats are dressed as immigrants so visitors can sit on their laps, literally placing themselves in their position. Martorell created this installation for the Nueva York (1613-1945) exhibition, a collaboration between the New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio in 2010 which explored New York's long connection with the Spanish-speaking world.
"Liberty and King George" Interactive Video Wall
Bring art to life! This video animation by the Small Design Firm of Cambridge, Massachusetts reproduces a Johannes Adam Oertel work, depicting the destruction of the statue of King George III in 1776 by patriots on ten high-definition flat screens. Triggered by visitors' movements, various elements of the painting come to life using sound and animation.
Around 1852, Johannes Adam Oertel depicted an incident that had occurred over seventy-five years earlier: the destruction of the statue of King George III by patriots on July 9, 1776, at Bowling Green in New York City. The American Revolution would inspire other democratic uprisings around the world, including the unsuccessful 1848 revolution in Oertel's native Germany, which sent progressives like Oertel fleeing to the United States. This painting illustrates the Bowling Green riot precipitated by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, though the work takes historical liberties by adding American Indians, an African-American, women, and children to the scene. These figures represent groups who were not only affected by the coming revolution, but whose rights were beginning to be redefined at the time of Oertel's composition.
Our consideration of the past can directly reflect our present, as this work illustrates. This video animation invites visitors to contemplate their own places in a lively historical continuum.