New York's oldest professional artists' association, art school, and museum, inspired by the academies that once dominated European art production and instruction. It superseded an earlier attempt to support such an organization, the American Academy of the Fine Arts founded in 1802. The National Academy of the Arts of Design, which two years later shortened its name, came into being under the leadership of Samuel F. B. Morse in 1826. Serving as its first president until 1845, Morse shaped an institution quite distinct from the American Academy. He loosely modeled the National Academy on London's Royal Academy, with which he was familiar. In a significant reform, the National Academy was run by its artist-members, rather than by businessmen and amateurs such as those who dominated American Academy policy. As it still does, the National Academy offered instruction and lectures, mounted an annual juried exhibition of original contemporary work, and continually augmented its collection. Like the Royal Academy and other European academies, the National Academy invites artists to membership, with the intent of validating artistic quality and honoring those who qualify. Members include painters, sculptors, printmakers, and architects.
The American Academy of the Fine Arts was known before 1816 as the New York Academy of Arts and then as the American Academy of Arts. It was devoted primarily to exhibiting and collecting classical and old master work (often represented by copies) and European contemporary art. John Trumbull had been its autocratic president for almost a decade when a group of dissident, mostly younger artists met late in 1825 to organize an association focused on professional development and instruction. When the American Academy was dissolved in 1842, the National Academy acquired its sculpture casts. By the 1870s, progressive artists viewed the National Academy itself as rigid and unresponsive to their interests. In 1875 the Art Students League began to offer more informally structured art training. After its establishment in 1877, the Society of American Artists challenged the National Academy's exhibition policies by sponsoring more democratically chosen shows. By the time of the Armory Show in 1913, the National Academy was viewed, by conservatives and experimentalists alike, as an institutional bulwark against modern art. Subsequently, although many prominent artists have been associated with the organization or its school, the National Academy has not for the last century exerted the influence it once did. Today officially known simply as the National Academy, it survives as a school, as well as a museum of American art headquartered nearby in a renovated and enlarged Fifth Avenue townhouse donated in 1940 by its former owners, Anna Hyatt Huntington and her husband.