Henri Matisse. Blue Nude, 1907. Oil on canvas 36 1/4 x 55 1/4". The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Cone Collection.

The Armory Show elicited an extraordinary range of feelings from the public as well as the art world. Some people responded with great enthusiasm while others could hardly contain their bewilderment, disgust, and rage with the new curiosity. For months, the newspapers and magazines were filled with caricatures, lampoons, photographs, articles, and interviews about the radical European art. Art students burned a copy of a painting by Matisse in effigy, violent episodes occurred in numerous other schools, and in Chicago, the show was investigated by the Vice Commission after a complaint from outraged moralists. So disturbing was the exhibition to the society of artists that painters like Sloan and Luks, who the day before had been considered the rebels of American art, repudiated the vanguard and resigned. Because of strong feelings aroused within the Association, it broke up soon after, in 1914, and the Armory Show was its only Exhibition. For years afterward, the show was remembered as an historical event, a momentous example of artistic insurgence (Schapiro 136).

The Armory Show kindled the first public discourse on modernism in the United States. Abraham A. Davidson’s summary of the Armory Show titled “The Armory Show and Early Modernism In America,” describes the show’s impact on the American public, private collectors, and future museum collections:

The International Exhibition of Modern Art of 1913, popularly known as the Armory Show because it was held from 17 February to 15 March at the 69th Infantry Regiment Armory in New York, was far reaching in its impact. Between 62,102 and 75,620 people paid to see some 1,300 European and American works, beginning chronologically with a miniature by Goya and extending to the present. Thus, the show was an extravaganza. Although there were large gaps -- the futurists as a group themselves--the Show represented many of the major artists and most adventurous positions from the end of the nineteenth century up to 1913.Improvisation by Wassily Kandinsky; and four Marcel Duchamps, including Nude made by private collectors, which would later pass into the public domain and form the beginnings of prominent museum collections of modernists art. These collectors included Dr. Albert C. Barnes; Lillie P. Bliss, who bought works by Cézanne, Gauguin, Redon, Renoir, and Vuillard; John Quinn and Arthur J. Eddy, who acquired, respectively, thirty-one and twenty-three pieces; and Walter C. Arensberg. (39)

Although the reaction of the public, critics, and collectors was overwhelming, it did not start out that way. At first the crowds did not come. Three weeks into the exhibition, attendance began to mount, and it grew in the last week to a peak of approximately 10,000 on the final day. On the last day,  lines circled the block, traffic jammed the streets around the Armory, and the doors had to be closed from 4 p.m. on because of overcrowding. For by then, the opposition's press had marshaled its forces, providing many comic interpretations of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase and describing Brancusi’s Mlle. Pogany as “a hard-boiled egg balanced on a cube of sugar.” Even the sympathetic New York American entitled its February 24 piece on the show, “Is She a Lady or an Egg?” (Altschuler 67)

For The Artists who visited the show, the experience inevitable was traumatic in one way or another. According to Walt Kuhn, “Old friends argued and separated, never to speak again. Indignation meetings were going on in all the clubs. Academic painters came every day and left regularly, spitting fire and brimstone--but they came--everybody came” (qtd. in Altschuler 69). Newspaper cartoonists and journalists mocked the Show with a series of cartoons published in the Evening Sun titled, “Seeing New York with a Cubist.” Additionally,

political cartoonists took up the Cubist theme as well...showing Woodrow Wilson proudly painting a falling faucet entitled Tariff Descending Downward. A slew of humorous verses were painted...[such as] The Cubies ABC, with each letter of the alphabet lampooning some part of the show; and there were such mocking events as an exhibition by the “Academy of Misapplied Arts” for the benefit of the Lighthouse for the Blind.” (Altschuler 73) (continue)

Ashcan School | George Bellows | Ernest Lawson | Everett Shinn | George Luks | William Glackens | Robert Henri | John Sloan | Maurice Prendergast | Georgia O'Keefe | Charles Sheeler

Armory Show Web Site
Linda M. Larson.  All rights reserved.
Revised: 29 Nov 2000 14:30:28 -0500 .