An art colony or artists' colony is a place where creative practitioners live and interact with one another. Artists are often invited or selected through a formal process, for a residency from a few weeks to over a year. Beginning with the early 20th century models, such as MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, hundreds of modern-day artist colonies now offer the benefit of time, space, and collaborative time away from the usual workaday world. Worldwide, the two primary organizations serving artist colonies and residential centres are Res Artis, based in Amsterdam, and the Alliance of Artists Communities, based in Providence, Rhode Island. The Intra Asia Network, based in Taiwan, is a less formal body working to advance creative communities and exchanges throughout Asia. These consortia comprise most of the world's active artists' colonies.
The art movement itself has only started to be investigated by scholars, with the chief historical studies consisting of Michael Jacobs's introductory The Good and Simple Life and Nina Lübbren's Artists' Colonies in Europe 1870-1910.
Art colonies initially emerged as village movements in the 19th and early 20th century. It is estimated that between 1830 and 1914 some 3000 professional artists participated in a mass movement away from urban centres into the countryside, residing for varying lengths of time in over 80 communities. There seem to have been three chief forms of these settlements, consisting of
In the latter villages, artists invariably bought or built their own houses and studios.
While artist colonies appeared across Europe, as well as in America and Australia, Lübbren has found that the majority of colonies were clustered in the Netherlands, Central Germany, and France (encircling Paris). Overall, artists of 35 different nationalities were represented throughout these colonies, with Americans, Germans and British forming the largest participating groups. This gave socialising a cosmopolitan flavour: 'Russia, Sweden, England, Austria, Germany, France, Australia and the United States were represented at our table, all as one large family, and striving towards the same goal,' the painter Annie Goater penned in 1885 in an essay on her recent experiences at one French colony. Villages can also be classified according to the nationalities they attracted. Barbizon, Pont-Aven, Giverny, Katwijk, Newlyn and Dachau drew artists from around the world and had a pronounced international flavour. Americans were always a major presence at Rijsoord, Egmond, Grèz-sur-Loing, Laren and St Ives; Grèz-sur-Loing went through a Scandinavian phase in the 1880s; and Germans were the largest group after the indigenous Dutch at Katwijk. On the other hand, foreigners were rare at Sint-Martens-Latem, Tervuren, Nagybanya, Kronberg, Staithes, Worpswede and Willingshausen while Skagen hosted mainly Danes and a few other Scandinavians.
Some painters were renowned within artistic circles for settling down permanently in a single village, most notably Jean-François Millet at Barbizon, Robert Wylie at Pont-Aven, Otto Modersohn at Worpswede, Heinrich Otto at Willinghausen, and Claude Monet at Giverny. They were not necessarily leaders, although these artists were respected and held a certain moral authority in their respective colonies. There were also regular 'colony hoppers' who moved about the art colonies of Europe in a nomadic fashion. Max Liebermann, for instance, painted at Barbizon, Dachau, Etzenhausen and at least six short-lived Dutch colonies; Frederick Waugh worked in Barbizon, Concarneau, Grèz-sur-Loing, St Ives and Provincetown in the United States; Evert Pieters was active at Barbizon, Egmond, Katwijk, Laren, Blaricum, Volendam and Oosterbeek; Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes painted at Pont-Aven, Zandvoort, Newlyn and St Ives.
The greater number of early European art colonies were to be casualties of the First World War. Europe was no longer the same place socially, politically, economically and culturally, and art colonies seemed a quaint anachronism in an abrasively modernist world. However, a small proportion did endure in one or another form, and owe their continuing existence to cultural tourism. The colonies of Ahrenshoop, Barbizon, Fischerhude, Katwijk, Laren, Sint-Martens-Latem, Skagen, Volendam, Willingshausen and Worpswede not only still operate in a modest fashion, but run their own museums where, besides maintaining historic collections of work produced at the colony, they organise exhibition and lecture programs. If they have not fared as well, several formerly major colonies such as Concarneau and Newlyn are remembered via small yet significant collections of pictures held in regional museums. Other colonies succumbed during the late 20th century to cultural entrepreneurs who have redeveloped villages in the effort to simulate, within certain kitsch parameters, the 'authentic' appearance of the colony during its artistic heyday. This is not always successful, with Giverny, Grèz-sur-Loing, Kronberg, Le Pouldu, Pont-Aven, Schwaan and Tervuren probably being among the most insensitively commercialised of the former art colonies.
Some art colonies are organized and planned, while others arise because some artists like to congregate, finding fellowship and inspiration--and constructive competition--in the company of other artists.
The American Academy in Rome, founded in 1894 originally as the American School of Architecture, which in the following year joined with the American School of Classical Studies, is often cited as the early model for what would become the modern arts and humanities colony. Its well-funded, well-organized campus, and extensive program of fellowships, were soon replicated by early 20th-century artist colonies and their wealthy benefactors.
The Provincetown art colony came into being when Charles Webster Hawthorne opened his Cape Cod School of Art there in the summer of 1899. Other noted artists arrived and expanded the colony. In 1914 the Provincetown Art Association was founded. Business and professional people from the community as well as established artists provided the initial leadership and by 1916, a Boston Globe headline read "Biggest Art Colony in the World at Provincetown."  Provincetown claims to be the oldest continuously operating artist's colony in the United States.
The Woodstock Art Colony in Woodstock, New York began as two colonies: first Byrdcliffe, founded in 1902 by Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, Hervey White, and Bolton Brown, and then the Maverick Colony, founded by Hervey White after seceding from Byrdcliffe in 1904. The town of Woodstock remains an active center of art galleries, music, and theatrical performances.
The high desert town of Sedona, Arizona, became a Southwest artists' colony from the mid-20th century. Modernists Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning arrived from New York in the late 1940s, when the town was populated by less than 500 ranchers, orchard workers, merchants, and small Native American communities. Among the Wild West setting, Ernst built a small cottage by hand in Brewer Road, and he and Tanning hosted intellectuals and European artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Yves Tanguy. Sedona proved an inspiration for the artists, and for Ernst--who compiled his book Beyond Painting and completed his sculptural masterpiece Capricorn while living there. The environment also inspired Egyptian sculptor Nassan Gobran to move there from Boston and become head of the art department at Verde Valley School. In Southern Arizona in the early and mid-twentieth century, the Historic Fort Lowell enclave outside of Tucson, Arizona, became an artistic epicenter. The adobe ruins of the abandoned nineteenth century United States Cavalry fort had been adapted by Mexican-Americans into a small village called "El Fuerte." During the 1920s, 30s and 40s, artists, writers and intellectuals, attracted by the rural elegance and stark landscape of the Sonoran Desert, and romanticism of the adobe ruins began buying, redesigning and building homes in this small community. Notable artists included Dutch-born artist Charles Bolsius, Black Mountain College instructor and photographer Hazel Larson Archer, architectural designer and painter Veronica Hughart, early modernist Jack Maul, French writers and artists René Cheruy and Germaine Cheruy, and noted anthropologists Edward H. Spicer and Rosamond Spicer.
The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N. H., was founded in 1907 by composer Edward MacDowell and his wife, Marian. MacDowell was inspired by his knowledge of the American Academy in Rome, and its mission to provide American artists with a home base at the centre of classical traditions and primary sources. MacDowell, who was a trustee of the American Academy, believed that a rural setting, free from distractions, would prove to be creatively valuable to artists. He also believed that discussions among working artists, architects and composers would enrich their work.
In upstate New York on Lake George Golden Heart Farm art colony the summer residence of Thomas and Wilhelmina Weber Furlong of the Art Students League of New York opened in the summer of 1921. The colony and artists in residence activity were at the center of the American modernist movement as important artists from Manhattan traveled to Golden Heart Farm to escape the city and study with the couple
In Maryland, the Mid-Atlantic Plein Aire Company, most notable for the involvement of artist William David Simmons, is to this day active in its mission to bring local artists in touch with classical painting traditions.
Another famous colony, Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., soon followed. Spencer Trask and his wife Katrina Trask conceived the idea of Yaddo in 1900, but the first residency program for artists did not formally initiate until 1926.
Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists' Residency was founded in 1910 by Frederick Fursman and Walter Marshall Clute, two faculty members from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Fursman and Clute's vision was to create a respite where faculty and students could immerse themselves completely in artmaking, surrounded by a supportive community of artists and an inspired landscape of natural dunes, woods and water. Ox-Bow is located in Saugatuck, Michigan.
In Delray Beach, Florida, a seasonal Artists and Writers Colony existed during the winter months from the mid-1920s until the early 1950s. The Delray Beach enclave was noted for attracting many famous cartoonists of the era.
The Taos art colony in Taos, New Mexico is an example of more spontaneous development. Once artists began settling and working in Taos, others came, art galleries and museums were opened and the area became an artistic center--though not a formal, funded art colony providing artists with aid, as Yaddo and MacDowell do. An influential art colony in New York was the Roycroft community. Nearby was the cabin of the Saturday Sketch Club used by Buffalo art students who specialized in outdoor oil painting.
Jerome, Arizona is a town of 400 people that was once a thriving copper mining town of 15,000. When the mines closed, Jerome became a ghost town in the 1950s. In the 1960s hippies discovered Jerome and settled there atop the Mingus Mountains, with a sweeping view of Sedona and the Verde Valley. Today, much of the population is working artists, writers, and musicians with a very eclectic mix of art galleries and working studios, open to the public.
The artists at Carmel-by-the-Sea, California coalesced in 1905 and incorporated their art gallery and meeting rooms a year later as the Carmel Arts and Crafts Club. They staged annual and special exhibitions, which attracted distinguished visiting artists from across the country, and provided professional instruction in painting, sculpture, and crafts. At the urging of his former student Jennie V. Cannon, William Merritt Chase was persuaded to teach his last summer school here in 1914. Between 1919 and ca.1948 it was the largest art colony on the Pacific Coast of the United States. In 1927 the Carmel Art Association replaced the Arts and Crafts Club and thrives today as the nexus of for the art community on the Peninsula of Monterey, California and Big Sur. The Carmel Art Institute was established in 1938 and included among its illustrious instructors Armin Hansen and Paul Dougherty.
Many art colonies continue across Eastern Europe in Bulgaria, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia. They are organised by a range of bodies including city councils, monasteries, private collectors and artists. Generally the colonies only exist for a few weeks each year as many of the participants work on an academic calendar. Some of the colonies (Stumista) have been in existence for over 40 years and their reputation allows them to attract a range of international artists. Some examples of these groups may be found at: