William MacLeod: Painter and Curator
As the Corcoran Gallery’s first curator and one of the first museum professionals in the United States, Mr. William MacLeod (1811-1892) was a very influential figure in shaping the Corcoran Gallery of Art and establishing the important role of museum curator in America. As a painter himself, MacLeod brought his own artistic creativity and sensibility to his position, a sense that is reflected in the daily accounts and journals he maintained of gallery activities. This historical exhibition showcases a select number of paintings by MacLeod, excerpts from his personal journals covering his time in Washington during the city’s growth into one of the most important capitals and several pieces acquired by the museum during his time.William MacLeod: Painter and Curator will be on view from September 10 through November 6, 2005.
The founding of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1869 was hailed as an important step in Washington’s maturation as a major capital. For William MacLeod, it was opportunity to become one of the nation’s first museum professionals. He was already known to the founder, William Wilson Corcoran, who owned a view of Mount Vernon by MacLeod (now unlocated). His application letter cited his study of art, his experience as an art instructor, and his four-year residence in Europe and familiarity with "its principal galleries, their arrangement and the methods of preserving their contents."
From the moment MacLeod assumed his position as curator in 1873 until his retirement in 1889, he took great personal pride in his association with the institution, its founder and the Trustees. A record of his accomplishments, and frustrations, survives in the daily journals he maintained between 1876 and 1886. Intended as aid in compiling his annual reports to the Trustees, the journals contain MacLeod’s comments on a wide variety of subjects, including the artists, patrons, and art dealers who visited the building, acquisitions, the formation of the Corcoran School of Art, correspondence, and Washington society. At once a business document and a personal recollection, the journals show in fascinating detail the day-to-day operations of the Corcoran Gallery as well as MacLeod’s own particular view of the events that took place there and in the city.
William MacLeod: Painter
For my general character and fitness for the position I seek, I can with confidence refer to the principal residents of this city where I have so long lived, and am so generally known.William MacLeod to the "Corporators of ‘The Corcoran Art Gallery’" November 29, 1870
In his application for the position of curator at the newly-founded Corcoran Gallery of Art, William MacLeod (1811-1892) provided a brief biography, emphasizing his training as a landscape artist as well as his intimate connection to Washington. In his lifetime, MacLeod saw a number of significant changes in the city - one of his earliest memories was of the burning of Washington by the British in 1814 - and its growth into an important capital. William MacLeod was born on April 12, 1811 in Alexandria, Virginia, where his parents had immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland in the 1790s. One of ten surviving children, William followed his brother Donald to Scotland to attend the University of Glasgow and live with his uncle, George MacLeod, who was a surgeon. Although it seems that MacLeod initially undertook studies to become a doctor, he also explored European art galleries and learned to paint. When he returned to the United States in the late 1830s, he traveled and painted landscapes in New York, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The first known exhibition of his work took place in Philadelphia in 1843. A few years later he was exhibiting frequently with the Ameican Art Union in New York.
His paintings are in keeping with the Hudson River School aesthetic of his time: dramatic renderings of the American landscape that carry spiritual and metaphoric significance.
Married in 1854, MacLeod provided instruction in painting and draftsmanship in Washington and Alexandria in the 1850s and 1860s in order to support his family. He continued to exhibit his work and participate in local artists’ groups. However, the outbreak of the Civil War disrupted his teaching and forced his painting school to close. In order to make ends meet, he secured a position as a clerk in the Third Auditor’s Office of the Treasury Department. He worked at the Treasury Department from 1861 to 1873, when he accepted a position as the first curator of the newly-formed Corcoran Gallery of Art.
William MacLeod: Curator and Painteris organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and made possible by an anonymous donor and Candace Von Salzen McIlhenny.