America’s Oldest Family-owned Art Gallery

May 31, 2011

-By Penny Cherubino

A discrete brownstone at 238 Newbury Street is home to Vose Galleries. Most shoppers passing by the building have no idea that behind the blue doors is one of the largest collections of American realist paintings in New England.

Family and Art

For 170 years descendants of Joseph Vose have operated the fine art company he founded in Providence, RI in 1841. In the second generation, Seth M. Vose developed a passion for the French Barbizon School of painting.

He amassed a collection of all the painters in the group, represented major local artists, and attracted patrons from the Boston market. When he died in 1910, he was lauded as “the dean of American art dealers.”

Seth’s son, Robert C. Vose opened the first Boston Vose Gallery on Boylston Street. Over the next 60 years, he led the firm to a position of national importance by touring America exhibiting paintings from the collection. The family says, “As a result of his efforts, Vose paintings now hang in almost every major American museum.”

The newest generation are sisters, Elizabeth and Carey Vose. They have joined their parents in the business. Their grandfather moved Vose to Newbury Street where the brownstone became both the gallery and the family home. Today, more of the building is open to the public, and more space is devoted to art. But, Elizabeth said they still enjoy parties in the dining room.

Warm & Welcoming

By maintaining the atmosphere of a home, the gallery demonstrates what the artwork will look like in a domestic setting. And, it also provides a warmer and more welcoming place for everyone who visits the works on display.

Provenance and Art History

In the world of art, the Vose name is a mark of quality and assurance. Elizabeth quoted her grandfather who always said, “All your fakes are signed.” She detailed the careful research they do on each piece they offer for sale. “We stand behind everything we sell, and we have to make sure it has a good provenance.”

The records they’ve kept through the years have made Vose a valued resource for other experts and art history researchers.

The Vose files are of such historical importance that the family has given them to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Current Work

In 2001 the Vose family made a decision to once again represent living artists. While the 900-1000 pieces they have by deceased American artists represent a core of their collection, they also have a carefully-curated collection of works in their Contemporary Realism department as well as ten artists offering diverse styles for commissioned portraits.

Through June 25th the gallery is featuring, “Duets: Theme and Variations, New Paintings by Warren Prosperi.”

Prosperi is a new artist for Vose and this collection shows a range of his work– landscapes, figural works, and portraiture. In the second floor living room, visitors will see some of his impressive paintings of sculptural works set in the Public Garden and on the Boston Common.

Elizabeth Vose encourages everyone to overcome what she calls their “threshold” fear of walking through the doors of a fine art gallery. “We really like to share the art. We show these artists because we’re proud to represent them.”

For those who would like to begin collecting master works, Vose even has a “Works Under $10,000” department. “I hope that people feel welcome to come in and just look… We are more than willing to share any information that we have and answer any questions,” she said.

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