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Jonathan Sturges

Merchant (Grocery/Tea and Coffee)/Arts Patron

Centurion, 1847–1874

Born 24 March 1802 in Southport, New York

Died 28 November 1874 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Fairfield East Cemetery, Fairfield, Connecticut

Proposed by N/A: Founder

Elected 13 January 1847 at age forty-four

Archivist’s Note: He ostensibly resigned sometime between 1851 and 1855 and was reinstated in April 1857 with a new proposer, Charles M. Leupp. Father of Frederick Sturges; brother-in-law of John L. Cady; father-in-law of J. Pierpont Morgan and William H. Osborn; grandfather of Henry Fairfield Osborn, William Church Osborn, and Frederick Sturges Jr.; great-grandfather of A. Perry Osborn, Earl D. Osborn, Fairfield Osborn, Frederick Henry Osborn, and William Henry Osborn. The portrait photograph from the 1851 Sketch Club album is from an undated frontispiece that was found inserted in (but not bound with) his personal copy of that volume; Daniel Huntington elsewhere reports that he did not pose for the 1851 studio session and, judging by his appearance, the photograph must be from a much later date.

Century Memorials

The Committee [John H. Gourlie, Henry Drisler, and Francis F. Marbury] appointed at the meeting in December last to prepare resolutions commemorative of Mr. Jonathan Sturgis [sic: Sturges], presented the following Resolution, which was unanimously adopted.

Resolved, That the members of the Century Association have received the intelligence of the death of their friend and associate Jonathan Sturgis [Sturges], with feelings of sincere sorrow.

As one of the founders of the Association he manifested an earnest and long-continued interest in its prosperity and usefulness as an Institution whose aims and purposes were to unite in social fraternity men of varied accomplishments in science and letters, separated as they are in their daily associations, but here bound together in cordial esteem and permanent friendship.

We recal[l] with pride his public spirit, and the intelligent interest he took in the promotion and extension of a taste for the Fine Arts among his countrymen, and the generous and kindly aid he extended to our young and aspiring artists, by many of whom the intellectual dignity and character of our country, by their genius and labors, have been nobly exalted.

As a merchant and man of affairs, his intelligent enterprise and unswerving probity give lustre to his commercial profession.

To commemorate our respect for his memory, we desire to place on the permanent records of our association this tribute to his honorable and useful life.

Resolved, that the Secretary be requested to transmit a copy of the foregoing Resolutions to the family of our deceased friend.

Augustus R. Macdonough, Secretary
Annual Meeting Minutes, 9 January 1875

Within our circle Jonathan Sturges won from the few such affection and honor for his kindly heart and liberal love of culture as crowned the choice repute in which he was held by the world for integrity of life and nobility of spirit.

Augustus R. Macdonough
1875 Century Association Reports

Sturges was born in 1802 and died in 1874. He joined the grocers R. and L. Reed in 1821, owned partly by Luman Reed (a major collector of American art, most of whose collection is now at the New-York Historical Society), and by 1828 was a partner in the firm. An influential figure in New York business circles, he was also the director of several railroad companies. A liberal and outspoken supporter of the national government during the Civil War, Sturges helped establish the Union League Club and was its president in 1863. Later, he was active in the measures to break up the Tweed ring and to promote municipal reform in New York. An intimate friend of Bryant, he was among the most active in the movement that led to the presentation of the Bryant vase.

Sturges inherited from his father-in-law a fondness for the Hudson River School of painting. He financed [Asher] Durand’s trip abroad in 1840 and 1841, commissioned Kindred Spirits in memory of [Thomas] Cole, and also owned works by [Frederic] Church and [William Sidney] Mount. He was a founder-member of the Sketch Club, active in the American Art-Union and the president and one of the main contributors to the New York Gallery of Fine Arts. He was also a trustee of the National Academy of Design, which requested that he sit for a portrait by an artist of his choosing. His response noted that “I can truly say that my connection with art and artists has been a source of great profit to myself and family, in the refining influences it has had upon us all for many, many years.” He chose Durand to do the portrait.

A recent Times Literary Supplement (February 3, 2006, p. 32), in a review of The Hudson, states: “One of the most famous paintings of the Hudson River School is Kindred Spirits. by Asher B. Durand and commissioned by Jonathan Sturges, a New York merchant and leading patron. . . . It is both regrettable and controversial that last summer the New York Public Library . . . sold it.”

William A. Frosch
“Our Original Amateurs, 2009”