The New-York Historical Society houses an outstanding collection of over twenty-five hundred American paintings—primarily portraits, genre scenes and landscapes—dating from the colonial period through the twentieth century, as well as a select number of European works. It includes the personal collection of the New York merchant and pioneering art patron Luman Reed, as well as the collection of Robert L. Stuart, another nineteenth-century New York philanthropist and art collector. In addition, the Historical Society's holdings from the collection of Thomas Jefferson Bryan include both American and European paintings.
The New-York Historical Society holds one of the nation's preeminent collections of Hudson River School landscapes, including Thomas Cole’s iconic five-painting series The Course of Empire and works by Asher B. Durand (over 400 pieces including works on paper), Frederic E. Church, Jasper F. Cropsey, Sanford R. Gifford, John F. Kensett and Albert Bierstadt. Sketchbooks, drawings, diaries and correspondence generated by many of these painters are retained in the Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture and in the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library. The New-York Historical Society also holds genre paintings by artists such as Francis William Edmonds, William Henry Burr and William Sidney Mount, as well as Eastman Johnston's well known Negro Life at the South of 1859.
The paintings collection also features a wealth of portraits that chart the course of the nation's civic, mercantile, literary, artistic and ecclesiastical history. One of the best-known holdings of historical American portraiture in the nation, it abounds with portraits of renowned political figures of colonial America and the early republic, military heroes of the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and New York's prominent merchants and civic leaders, many of whom were also founders or officers of the New-York Historical Society. Rounding out the New-York Historical Society's extensive portrait collection is a treasury of more than 800 portrait miniatures, including the rare ca. 1825 miniatures of former slave Pierre Toussaint and family, and a trove of 284 delicate depictions of New York society beauties donated by the renowned collector Peter Marie.