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Museum of the City of New York restores & digitizes the J. Clarence Davies Collection of Art
Currier & Ives, The Great East River Suspension Brige. Date: 1883. Chromolithograph.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of the City of New York completed a 2 year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to conserve 18 selected paintings and 160 drawings, prints, maps, and other non-photographic visual materials documenting New York City history. The conserved works on paper, plus an additional 1,400 objects, were digitized and enhanced to be made available on the Museum’s online Collections Portal.

The J. Clarence Davies Collection arrived by donation in the Museum’s first decade and remains the foundation for the Museum’s city iconography holdings. Assembled over a forty year period by the famed Bronx real estate mogul J. Clarence Davies (1868-1934), it is one of the largest personal collections focused on one city in the United States. Items from the collection were centerpieces in the Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, the Museum’s most well attended exhibition, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the design that established Manhattan’s street grid. Davies, who was referred to as “King of the Bronx” and had much to do with the development of the northern part of the city, including organizing the Bronx Board of Trade, spent his whole life in New York and was dedicated to preserving its history. In 1929, he made a gift from his collection to the Museum which spanned all departments, including prints, maps, photographs, drawings, decorative arts objects, paintings, costumes and textiles, books, manuscripts, ephemera, and theater memorabilia. At the time, the gift had an estimated value of $500,000, which in today’s dollars is around $6.5 million. He collected these items voraciously and comprehensively from all five boroughs, as evidenced by the range of over 7,000 objects with dates spanning a 300 year period. However, due to the collection’s age, the fact that Davies consulted the materials frequently while in his possession, and the demand for the objects in the Museum’s exhibitions, many of the items required conservation to ensure their survival for future generations.

The NEH’s generous support allowed for the Museum to conserve, in total, a selection of 184 works of New York City iconography from the J. Clarence Davies Collection. The commitment to provide conservation treatment for 18 selected paintings was exceeded by one painting, and the goal to conserve 160 drawings, prints, maps, and other non-photographic works on paper was surpassed by five objects. Additionally, the Museum exceeded its promise to digitize 1,578 works from the J. Clarence Davies Collection, and in fact digitized over 1,600; the conserved paintings are in the queue for imaging, and will soon be uploaded to the Collections Portal as well. As a result, a significant portion of the collection is now available on the Portal and works long inaccessible have been reintroduced to the public.

Highlights of the J. Clarence Davies imagery on the Collections Portal include:

· Vivid sketches of New York City in the making, such as portraits of Union Square, Wall Street, Thompson Street, Central Park, the Bowery, and Cooper Union.

· Detailed maps ranging in geographical variety from street, land auction, cadastral, and topographic.

· Gorgeous paintings depicting New York City scenes and landmarks, such as Hell Gate Bridge, the High Bridge, and Castle Garden.

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