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Sylvester Rosa Koehler Correspondence

An description of his correspondence at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Koehler, S. R. (Sylvester Rosa), 1837-1900.
Title: Sylvester Rosa Koehler Correspondence
Inclusive Dates: 1877-1896
Quantity: 107 items
Abstract: American art critic, editor of American Art Review.
Abstract: Incoming letters from illustrators (A.V.S. Anthony, F.S. Church), engravers (Timothy Cole, J.F.E. Prud’homme, John Sartain), portraitists (Eastman Johnson), sculptors (Augustus Saint-Gaudens), and other artists.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Sylvester Rosa Koehler was born in Leipzig, Germany on February 11, 1837, and arrived in the United States in 1849. He was the editor of the American Art Review and a writer of art critiques and articles. He was appointed curator of the print department at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and was made an honorary curator of the section of graphic arts at the U.S. National Museum at the Smithsonian. He lectured at Lowell Institution (Boston), Drexel Institution (Philadelphia), and the U.S. National Museum in Washington. He died in 1900.

Source: Leonard, John (ed). Who's Who in America. 1899-1900. Chicago, A. N. Marquis & Company, 1899.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Sylvester Rosa Koehler Correspondence consists of 107 incoming letters from various 19th century luminaries of the art world. Most of the letters focus an submissions to the American Art Review, of which Koehler was the editor. The correspondence includes suggestions and comments concerning both articles and graphic work for inclusion in the journal by contemporary artists of the period.

Among the correspondents who submitted articles for publication are: Illustrator A.V.S. Anthony, historian H.H. Bancroft, Cass Gilbert, an behalf of the Architectural League of New York, Alex Schilling, spokesman for the Chicago Art League, and artist John Sartain. Among those who offered graphic work for publication in the journal (F.S. Church, T.W. Dewing, Harry Fenn, Daniel Huntington, Peter Moran), there is substantive discussion about the quality of their work and its suitability for reproduction in the magazine.

Koehler actively solicited the work of many artists, some of whom were less than enthusiastic about submitting their work for publication. Philip Gilbert Hamerton, fearing that reproduction of his work in the unproven journal might endanger sales of his newly published portfolio, elected to delay submitting anything until two or three numbers of the publication had been issued. John La Farge feared that his works were too "radical" for the publication, noting that his only "confidence in them is that they are the result of twenty years of observation & suffering, but that also is, I think, against their utility." (14 Aug. 1879)

In addition to the correspondence concerning the journal, there are a number of personal letters from artists in response to Koehler's criticism of their work (Fenn, Daniel Chester French, Moran) as well as several discussions about the technical problems of reproducing it (Huntington, Elihu Vedder). A few letters suggest Koehler's various financial arrangements with artists (Church, Timothy Cole), and there is a single item (27 May 1890) from John Francis Prud'homme in which he seeks advice about setting a price for his "Judgment," admitting that: "Engravers and all Artists in general are defective [in] the trade aspect of disposing of their work." A lengthy letter from Cole, written during a sojourn in London, speaks of his disappointment with the City: "... the only thing I respect the place for is its atmosphere. It is a thick warm envelope that softens and renders all forms somewhat poetical." (27 July 1896) Cole also describes his observations about various paintings in the British Museum, and writes of his encounter with neighbor James McNeill Whistler, "who is a humorist every inch of him." Along with discussions of his plans for exhibiting his work and his hope of beginning to use copper etching for figure representation as well as landscape work, F.S. Church adds visual interest to several of his letters with a number of humorous illustrations.

Also included in the collection are two letters from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, one of which is in answer to some unsolicited but gratefully received advice from Koehler:

I have been in the habit of regarding myself as extremely obnoxious to the Whites of the South, and perhaps, this has led me to decline invitations thither which in other circumstances I might have accepted. My course has been dictated in the matter also by the thought that my going South might be construed into a taunt - a display of bravado and be made the occasion of violence against me and upon the colored people generally.

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Arrangement of the Collection

The Sylvester Rosa Koehler Correspondence consists of 1 box of incoming letters received by S.R. Koehler. It is arranged alphabetically by name, and when there is more than one letter from the same person, by date.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931.
Anthony, A. V. S. (Andrew Varick Stout), 1835-1906.
Bancroft, Hubert Howe, 1832-1918.
Church, Frederick S. (Frederick Stuart), 1842-1924.
Cole, Timothy, 1852-1931.
Dewing, Thomas Wilmer.
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895.
Fenn, Harry, 1838-1911.
Gaul, Gilbert William, 1855-1919.
Gilbert, Cass, 1859-1934.
Hamerton, Philip Gilbert, 1834-1894.
Henley, William Ernest, 1849-1903.
Huntington, Daniel.
Ives, James Merritt, 1824-1895.
Johnson, Eastman, 1824-1906.
Koehler, S. R. (Sylvester Rosa), 1837-1900.
La Farge, John, 1835-1910.
Moran, Peter.
O’Reilly, John Boyle, 1844-1890.
Prud’homme, John Francis Eugene, 1800-1892.
Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, 1848-1907.
Sartain, John, 1808-1897.
Schilling, Alex.
Vedder, Elihu, 1836-1923.

Associated Titles

American art review.


Art critics -- United States.
Artists -- United States.
Periodical editors -- United States.

Genres and Forms



Art Critics.

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Sylvester Rosa Correspondence
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Library

Finding Aid Information

Created by: KM
Date: Oct 1988
Revision history: 28 Aug 2007 - EAD file created (JPK)

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Incoming letters
Box 1 Anthony, Andrew Varick Stout 1879-1881, 1890 (18 letters)
Box 1 Bancroft, Hubert Howe 1880 (1 letter)
Box 1 Church, Frederick Stuart 1879-1881, 1885, 1891 (20 letters)
Box 1 Cole, Timothy 1880, 1896, undated (2 letters, 1 postcard)
Box 1 Dewing, Thomas Wilmer 1880-1881 (4 letters)
Box 1 Douglass, Frederick 1879, undated (2 letters)
Box 1 Fenn, Harry 1885 (3 letters)
Box 1 French, Daniel Chester 1885 (1 letter)
Box 1 Gaul, Gilbert William 1885 (1 letter)
Box 1 Gilbert, Cass 1881 (1 letter)
Box 1 Hamerton, Philip Gilbert 1879 (1 letter)
Box 1 Henley, William Ernest 1883 (1 letter)
Box 1 Huntington, Daniel 1880-1881 (4 letters)
Box 1 Ives, James Merritt 1883 (1 letter)
Box 1 Johnson, Eastman 1881 (1 letter)
Box 1 La Farge, John 1979 (1 letter)
Box 1 Moran, Peter 1879, 1882, 1886 (8 letters)
Box 1 O'Reilley, John Boyle 1877, 1881 (2 letters)
Box 1 Prud'homme, John Francis Eugene 1890 (1 letter)
Box 1 Staint-Gaudens, Augustus 1886 (1 letter)
Box 1 Sartain, John 1879 - 1880, 1883, 1887-1889 (13 letters)
Box 1 Schilling, Alex 1880, 1881 (3 letters)
Box 1 Vedder, Elihu 1880, 1881 (3 letters)
Box 1 Miscellaneous 1881, 1882 (2 letters)

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