Early 1900s postcard showing the exterior of the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum
A Glimpse into the Gilded Age

Circular, purple medallion with the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum stamp at center.

Constructed in 1895 to house the extraordinary art collections of Springfield residents George Walter Vincent Smith (1832-1923) and Belle Townsley Smith (1845-1928), the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum is a late 19th-century Gilded Age treasure with a rich history.

In addition to housing art collections, the museum stewards hundreds of photographs and documents that tell the story of Springfield’s first art museum and offer insights into the lives of its benefactors. Among the highlights of the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives are correspondence between George Walter Vincent Smith and artists such as Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908) and Raffaele Mainella (1856-1941).  The Archives also include Belle Townsley Smith’s letters from Italy, where the couple lived between 1882 and 1887; early photographs of the museum; diagrams of original gallery installations; exhibition catalogues produced by James Dwyer Gill’s Art Gallery which operated in Springfield; and much more.

Funded through a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, digitizing and sharing these Archives began in 2020. We invite you explore selections from the holdings through the links below.

This Project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor

National Endowment for the Humanities

Virtual Lectures
A Glimpse Into The Gilded Age: Digitizing The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives

A Glimpse into the Gilded Age: Digitizing the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives

FREE Museums a la Carte on Zoom
A Half Century At The George Walter Vincent Smith Museum: Shaping The Legacy

A Half Century at The George Walter Vincent Smith Museum: Shaping the Legacy

FREE Museums a la Carte on Zoom

These programs are supported by a grant from the Bridge Street Fund, a special initiative of Mass Humanities.

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Photographs

The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives contain hundreds of photographs taken prior to 1928 that document the museum exterior and grounds, as well as the Smiths’ nearby home on Chestnut Street. Also included in the Archives are historic images of artworks, case arrangements, and the Smiths themselves. Especially interesting are photographs of gallery installations curated by George Walter Vincent Smith, as they offer insight into the collector’s display philosophy which aimed to suggest, “beauty and repose – beauty of form, beauty in color schemes, consequently beauty of thought.” Meanwhile, images of artists, colleagues, and friends of the Smiths provide a glimpse into their social lives. Of interest to all who have enjoyed the Springfield Museums’ grounds, additional images show George and Belle Smith relaxing on what is now referred to as the “Quadrangle” with their beloved cats. More than a visual record of a bygone era, these photographs allow for a close study of Springfield’s budding cultural district and the legacy of George Walter Vincent and Belle Townsley Smith.

Exterior Of The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Undated
Tell Us What You Think!

Complete this short survey on the new digital archives and receive a free Springfield Museums lunch tote! Estimated completion time is 4 minutes.

Letters

Postmarked from cities such as Springfield, New York, Venice, and London, the over 200 letters in the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives are a testament to the Smiths’ engagement with the wider world. Extensive correspondence sheds light on objects purchased from prominent art dealers including Yamanaka Sadajiro (1866-1936).  Additionally, letters written to and from artists such as Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908), Winslow Homer (1836-1910), Raffaele Mainella (1856-1941), and Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903), outline business dealings and friendships. Underscoring the Smiths’ connections to prominent individuals of the era, the Archives also include exchanges with Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) and Booker T. Washington (1856-1915). Personal letters, too, such as those written by Belle Townsley Smith to her friend Doll, describe the Smiths travels in Italy and offer hints about their personalities.

Click the thumbnails to view the full letters.

James D. Gill’s Art Gallery, circa 1890
James D. Gill’s Art Gallery, circa 1890. Image courtesy of the Wood Museum of Springfield History Archives
James Dwyer Gill’s Art Gallery Catalogues

Although fascinated by the arts of Asia and the Middle East, George Walter Vincent Smith was also an enthusiastic supporter of artists working in the United States. In order to promote the work of contemporary American painters, Smith partnered with Springfield dealer James Dwyer Gill (1849-1937) to present annual exhibitions at Gill’s Art Gallery, located on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets. In 1889, The Springfield Republican reported that the superb selection of works on display in the Second Annual Art Exhibit were, “due to the experienced taste and long and wide acquaintance of Mr. G.W.V. Smith, who also proved himself a first-rate hanging committee in giving the pictures their best advantage.” The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum Archives contain the most complete collection of annual exhibition catalogues produced by Gill’s Art Gallery from 1878 through 1928. Interestingly, some catalogues are notated to indicate price sold or the name of the buyer. This rare and important collection of Gill’s Art Gallery catalogues contributes to the provenance of paintings located at the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, as well as in private and public collections around the world.