Established in 1953 by Eleanor Ward (1911-1984), the Stable Gallery derived its name from its first home, a former livery stable on Seventh Avenue at West 58th Street, New York City. Long interested in art and recognized for her "good taste" and "flair," Mrs. Ward had vaguely considered the idea of opening her own gallery for some time and received encouragement from Christian Dior, with whom she had worked in Paris. In 1952, opportunity arose to lease a suitable building that would later become a gallery. At first, Ward and a friend sold mannequins and made the large, empty space available for fashion photography; in December, she operated a Christmas boutique for a few weeks.
The Stable Gallery opened in 1953 with an exhibition of work by Ward's friend Mike Mishke, a commercial artist. She then arranged for the Stable Gallery to host a sequel to the 1951 Ninth Street Show (the initial show, organized by the Club with financial assistance from Leo Castelli, was held in an empty store on Ninth Street). The New York Artists Annual, better known as the Stable Annual, was selected by the artists themselves; this well-attended, widely-reviewed, and influential exhibition continued until 1957. Participating artists included Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem deKooning, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Richard Stankiewicz, and Jack Tworkov.
The Stable Gallery soon became a gathering place for artists, including some not in Stable's "stable." Over the years, the Stable Gallery presented the first one-man shows of Robert Indiana, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol. Among the artists closely associated with the gallery were: Joseph Cornell, Edward Dugmore, John Ferren, Alex Katz, Conrad Marca-Relli, Marisol, Joan Mitchell, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Stankiewicz, Cy Twombly, Jack Tworkov, and Wilfred Zogbaum. The gallery was known for dramatic, somewhat theatrical installations, and occasionally presented exhibitions beyond its usual focus (photographs by Hans Namuth and pre-Columbian sculpture, which personally interested Ward).
When the block where the Stable Gallery stood was razed in 1960 to make way for a high rise apartment building, Mrs. Ward moved her gallery to 33 East 74th Street, where she was able to maintain an apartment for herself upstairs. Quite abruptly, Ward closed the Stable Gallery in 1970, noting changes in the art scene, growing commercialization, and a loss of enthusiasm that made the gallery merely a business for her. Alan Groh (1923-1996), who started as Eleanor Ward's assistant in 1956 and was eventually named gallery director, became director of A. M. Sachs Gallery. Mrs. Ward traveled widely and acted as an art consultant to selected clients.