The “Puritan Gladiator”: 115 Years of Life Drawing and Censorship at The Art Students League of New York

On August 3, 1906, newspapers across the United States published stories of a surprising police raid at The Art Students League of New York, during which magazines were seized and a young female clerk was arrested and imprisoned. Americans were used to reading about censorship campaigns aimed at sexual health information and pornography, but this time the subject of the raid was a student publication featuring reproductions of life drawings made by League students. The agent who orchestrated the arrest, Anthony Comstock, was an outsized figure later termed the nation’s “Puritan Gladiator.” Today, a new generation of Puritan gladiators is policing the Internet, removing images similar to those published by League students 115 years ago.

This coming August 3, Dr. Amy Werbel returns to The League to illuminate new dimensions in a topic the art historian has worked on throughout her career: the history of censorship in fine art. After a year of working remotely and presenting artwork largely online, the topic of censorship has taken on new meaning. As we continue to explore a future where audiences engage with art on platforms that are vaster and more quickly evolving than any before them, we observe how each can represent different values and objectives. What can history tell us about the direction of art, censorship, and the artist’s agency today? Join us for an anniversary discussion of the raid on The League, and the differences and similarities between our past and present.

View the Press Release.

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