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1924: Life 100 Years Ago as Told by CAM

by Cole Rodgers, Marketing Project Manager


art history , museum history

The Cincinnati Art Museum in the 1920s. Image courtesy of our Mary R. Schiff Library & Archives.

Life in 2024 is fast paced, and with so many of our day-to-day activities revolving around those little computers in our pockets, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine it before our digital age. With time zooming past us, it’s important to reflect on the journey that brought us here. Let’s explore some of the clues CAM has left for us that paint a picture of the museum 100 years ago.

Free Admission? Nifty!

In 1924, roughly 50,600 art lovers visited CAM. The price of a general admission ticket to view the artworks and plaster cast recreations back then was a reasonable 25 cents. (That’s $4.57 in 2024’s economy.) This year, upwards of 200,000 guests will enjoy general admission to the museum for free made possible by a gift from The Rosenthal Family Foundation.

Puttin’ on the Ritz: Exhibitions

CAM is proud to present many special exhibitions each year, including 2023’s Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds, voted “#1 Museum Exhibition” in Cincinnati CityBeat’s 2024 “Best of” Readers Poll. The year 1924 was no exception. Visitors were delighted by 19 exhibitions including Watercolors by Leon Bakst, Exhibition of Early American Glass, Eighty-one Drawings by Aubrey Beardsley, and the Traveling Exhibit of Graphic Arts arranged by the United States National Museum, today’s Smithsonian Institution.

So Many Swell Acquisitions

The curators at CAM devote much of their time acquiring new artworks to grow and diversify CAM’s collection. Back in 1924, CAM’s curators added several exciting artworks to the collection, including St. Charles Borromeo (1767–1769) by Giovani Battista Tiepolo (Italian, 1696–1770); Sunday Morning in Virginia (1877) by Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910); and The Cellist (1908) by Cincinnati native Joseph DeCamp (American, 1858–1923). You can see all three on display now!

Copacetic Contemporary Art

What is the defining feature of art created today in 2024? Many descriptions of contemporary art comment on how varied and impossible it is to define art “in our lifetime.” Which artworks from the collection were considered “contemporary” in 1924? Here’s a selection:

Maurice Prendergast (American,1859–1924), New England Harbor, circa 1919–23, oil on canvas, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, 1959.51


New England Harbor, by Maurice Prendergast, forgoes traditional means of depicting perspective for a flat look that utilizes bold colors and simplified shapes.

Pitcher, 1925–60, Tressel Co. (American, 1925–1980s), manufacturer, copper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Fleishmann III, 2008.46


Pitcher, by the Tressel Company, demonstrates how artisans in the 1920s used copper to intersect artful form and function.

Maxfield Parrish (American, 1870–1966), Portrait of a Tree, 1924, oil on wood panel, Gift of Mrs. Alexander Thomson, 1972.405


Portrait of a Tree, painted by icon of American illustration Maxfield Parrish, achieves incredible luminosity by layering paint and varnish over a white background.

Stuart Davis (American, 1894–1964), Odol, 1924, oil on academy board, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, 1972.460


Odol, by Stuart Davis, turns the classical practice of still-life painting upside down. The simplified shading and linear forms of the mouthwash bottle and glass challenge the perception of what is worthy to be painted.

The 1920s in America are described as “roaring” with good reason. The economic boom following the end of World War I sent a shockwave of prosperity across much of the nation. We hope you enjoyed learning about happenings at CAM during this decade of jazz, silent movie stars, art deco design, Women’s Suffrage, and Prohibition. To learn more about CAM’s past, take a peek at the “Museum History” page on our website.