Picturing Prestige

New York Portraits, 1700-1860

February 5 - September 18, 2016

Back to Past Exhibitions

For early New Yorkers, there were few acts so symbolic of declaring a position in society as having one’s portrait made.

Beginning in the 18th century, New York City’s well-to-do denizens commissioned paintings of themselves and their loved ones to display in their homes as indicators of prestige. Portraits were often created to commemorate a significant moment in the sitter’s life—a marriage, acquiring an inheritance, or assuming an important position—and they offered an opportunity for the subject to present a carefully crafted image to the world. Drawn from the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York, Picturing Prestige: New York Portraits, 1700-1860, features works by many of the leading American painters of their day and captures the aspirations of the rising, upstart merchant city as it became the most populous and the most important port in the young country. In addition, the exhibition chronicles the changing nature of portraiture and artistic patronage, and ties together the lives of a group of leading citizens who enjoyed financial and social benefits that were beyond the reach of most New Yorkers.

Read an interview with curator Bruce Weber on our blog.


  • "Tour of Exhibit of New York Portraits from 1700 Through 1860" NY1: Inside City Hall
  • "Elizabeth Hamilton Once Posed for a Portrait in a New York City Prison" Smithsonian Magazine
  • "New Yorkers before selfies: Portrait exhibition at City Museum" amNewYork
  • "Explore The History of NYC Through Portraiture With The Museum Of The City Of New York" Untapped Cities
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