Comedy and Tragedy: The Life of John Sanford Saltus

NEW YORK, New York (May 25, 2022)—On view from May 15 through July 31, 2022, in the Print Gallery, the Salmagundi Club presents Comedy and Tragedy: The Life of John Sanford Saltus. This show takes a closer look at the life of John Sanford Saltus (1853-1922). Born as an only child to a family whose fortune was in the steel industry, Saltus was an arts philanthropist and Salmagundi honorary artist member from 1892 until his death. He served as the head of the library committee for multiple years during his membership, and donated many of his treasured costume books, which is still today considered one of the larger private costume book collections in the United States.

Eugene Atget (1857-1927) Photograpie du globe : Portrait of John Sanford Saltus (1853-1922) [H RA 1892-1922] in costume as a Roman, possibly as Julius Caesar, 1905.
Eugene Atget (1857-1927) Photograpie du globe : Portrait of John Sanford Saltus (1853-1922) [H RA 1892-1922] in costume as a Roman, possibly as Julius Caesar, 1905.
The exhibition comprises seventeen vintage photographs of Saltus, providing the viewer with an up close and personal window into his life, in particular, his passion for dressing in costume. Curator Bill Indursky further explains, “J. Sanford Saltus was obsessed with costume, medals and coins (numismatics), Gypsy lore, Joan of Arc, France and costume parties. He would attend and win costume prizes at balls around the world.  In most of the seventeen images on display, Saltus would be photographed in costume and then use the image as a postcard to send back to Salmagundi.”

Perhaps Saltus was a performer or showman at heart. He was able to truly transform himself into the characters he portrayed, as evidenced from his poses, to his accessories and adornments, to his facial expressions. Among the photographs on view, the philanthropist can be seen taking on the likeness of notable historical figures including Mark Twain, King Edward VII, Julius Caesar and King Solomon. He took inspiration from religious regalia, dressing as a Eastern European priest, and from the French order of chivalry, dressing as a member of the Order of Saint-Esprit. 

Saltus likely attended themed parties, such as a white ball and paper party, the latter for which he dressed in a exquisitely constructed paper costume as a Knight of the Order of the Saint-Esprit, inspired by the French couturier Louise Antoinette Lannes, Duchess of Montebello. He can be seen draped in Ottoman robes, complete with an ornate headpiece, and in a Mexican sarape and sombrero. Viewers will surely enjoy images of Saltus dressed as a court jester (or fool) and as a Harlequin clown.

The exhibition is in the Print Gallery and is free and open to the public. Viewing hours are 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm Monday through Friday, and 1:00 to 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday.


Salmagundi is a non-profit 501(c)(3), professional and social club, created in 1871 by artists and patrons to support one another. It is one of America’s oldest arts organizations with more than 1,100 current members throughout the United States and abroad.

The Club has continuously championed representational art from its founding with iconic members, including: Thomas Moran (1837-1926), William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), Emil Carlsen (1848-1932), N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Childe Hassam (1859-1935) and Winston Churchill (1874-1965).

For breaking stories, follow us:

Subject matter specialists and high-res digital assets available.


Joseph Ralph Fraia, Chair or Charity Henderson, Vice-Chair
Salmagundi Public Relations Committee
(917) 930-1494 or (315) 506-8108