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Newbury Street's Hidden Art Treasure

By Jeannette Bolden

After one walks down Newbury Street for a while, the brownstones begin to blend together as a neverending wall of brick and stone. Yet when one takes a closer look, one may notice one of Boston’s treasures. The Vose Art Gallery, originally opened by Joseph Vose, has been in business since 1841. The gallery has been passed down through six generations, and the owners have handled over 34,000 American paintings. Vose specializes in top-quality realist paintings from the eighteenth century though twentieth. The gallery has had its paintings displayed in 150 venues throughout the nation. In 2001, the gallery started to handle the work of living artists.

One may think that a family-owned business would be difficult to run. Yet the Vose family “works together really well,” said one member of the group, Carey Vose. Carey, her sister Elizabeth, and their parents work together to run the business. The two girls grew up going to art shows and watching their parents collect, and there is a shared eye for art in the family. The unit typically agrees when selecting art work to display. According to Carey, “There’s no formula to picking a piece." Rather than the gallery sticking to a particular criterion for selecting work, the Vose family discusses and votes on what pieces they should take in.

Over the 172 years Vose has been in business, the gallery has built an impressive collection of clientele. Clients are usually over fifty and are established collectors of American art. However, Vose also offers paintings priced at under $10,000 for less serious collectors. By doing this, the gallery is allowing casual buyers to purchase museum-worthy paintings.

The gallery is set up like a home, with various rooms, giving the gallery a comfortable appeal. Yet this was not entirely planned. The current building was bought in 1960 and was renovated for two years. During those two years, the family lived in the upper three floors. When the company moved downstairs again, the Vose family decided to continue living on the top floors. Their clientele has enjoyed this because buyers can see how the art may look in their own homes.

Typically, Vose’s most lucrative period is during October and November. May and June are also busy months, but the end of fall brings in most of the gallery’s revenue. During this time, the owners focus on promotion, distributing catalogues, and using off-site events.

However, Vose is concerned not only with its gallery, but also with the Boston community. Carey and Elizabeth’s grandparents started this tradition. “My grandparents set up an opportunity for up-and-coming art historians to win a grant through the Copley Society every year, which allows them funds to further their research in a given field,” said Carey. Vose is also involved with the Newbury Street League and the Back Bay Association. The company also gives money to the Museum of Fine Arts, as both patrons and museum council level donor. Carey Vose is involved with the Friends Of Fenway Studios, and she has been cochair of the events committee for the past two years. The organization is dedicated to preserving historical buildings in Boston, promoting art education, and fostering affordable spaces for artists to work in. Elizabeth Vose is on the board of Friends Of Copley Square. This organization’s goal is to preserve the park for residents as a recreational resource. It raises funds to maintain the park, improve it, and of course keep it a beautiful area in Boston. Vose Gallery is very interested in keeping Boston a safe and clean environment that will inspire local artists.

Vose is a different kind of gallery. It has been around for 172 years, making it the oldest family art gallery in the country. Although it does cater to a higher-end buyer, it also accommodates the everyday buyer, as the gallery understands people’s love of art.

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