T H E L I B R A R Y, 1 8 0 7


via schwartz /
silver architects

Boston Athenæum is one of the
oldest independent libraries in the United States.

The Boston Athenaeum, 1807

The Boston Athenaeum was founded in 1807 as a library, art repository, natural history museum, and laboratory. In the 1820s, the Athenaeum opened an art gallery, one of the first public venues for exhibiting art in New England. Although paintings and sculpture were the focus of both the Athenaeum’s art collection and its exhibitions, works of art on paper were routinely acquired and displayed. Most of the prints were acquired through donations and ran the gamut from European portraits, landscapes and city views to locally produced engravings and lithographs. Although several important early American artists, such as David Claypoole Johnston, Benjamin Nutting, and Seth Cheney, were nominally in charge of the “Engraving Room,” there was no clear collecting policy or curatorship in the modern sense of the word. The collection grew accordingly with the exquisite and the mundane coexisting in less than ideal housing environments. In the 1870s, the majority of the Athenaeum’s art collections were put on long term loan with the newly formed Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Athenaeum focused on its mission as a library.