The All-Americans

From the birth of our country and formation of our national identity to flipping the 20th century art world on its head, American has a celebrated tradition of art and artists. Here's a rundown of some of our favorites.

John Singleton Copley (1733-1815)

Born and raised in Boston, the famous portraitist was most noted for his work depicting movers and shakers within colonial America. He experimented with many media throughout his career, including minatures on copper and ivory, pastel and printmaking. In addition to portraiture, his later work consisted of contemporary historical paintings such as Watson and the Shark (right). Copley's depiction of this violent (and true) story awed 18 century viewers.

DTR114654 (detail)Watson and the Shark, 1782 (oil on canvas) by John Singleton Copley/ Detroit Institute of Arts, USA


PNY1530197 The Death of General Wolfe c. 1771 (oil on panel) by Benjamin West/ Phillips, Fine Art Auctioneers, New York, USA


Benjamin West (1738-1820)

An active painter during the time of the Revolutionary War, West was one of the first American artists to have a wide reputation in Europe. Known in London as "the American Raphael," his work revolutionized European art with its displays of patriotism and conflict throughout various historical events. His artistic style was advanced for its time, pushing later developments within Neoclassicism and Romanticism. His painting, The Death of General Wolfe (left), was controversial in its time because he broke away from traditional use of classical costumes.

John Trumbull (1756-1843)

Trumbull was the first American artist to produce a series of historic paintings depicting a current event. During the Revolutionary War, Trumbull got to observe the front line serving as a colonel and General Washington's aide. The Battle of Bunker Hill scene (right) is an example, as is his most famous work The Surrender of Cornwallis. His work during the war in particular led him to further commissions including his famous Declaration of Independence which hangs in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.


BST216031 The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill in 1775 (oil on canvas) by John Trumbull/ Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
XIR30805 Arrrangement in Grey and Black (oil on canvas) by James Abbott McNeill Whistler/ Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

American-born, Whistler spent much of his life in Russia and England. He was a true modernist in that he advocated for "art for arts sake" without all the sentimentality and moral illusion of the old masters. Whistler found there to be a parallel between music and painting and titled many of his paintings as arrangements, harmonies or nocturnes. Whistler's famous painting of his mother (left), was almost rejected by London's Royal Academy of Art and would be the last painting he would submit to the Academy for approval.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910)

Considered one of the foremost American painters of the 19th century, Homer excelled equally in both oil painting and watercolor, he was also an accomplished illustrator and etcher. Homer was an artist whose work was distinguished by its independence from artistic conventions and its universal theme of the primal relationship between man and nature. Many of his works depict scenes of the sea such as boats and coastlines, like Breezing Up (right). In 1962, this highly praised painting was honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

SSI55072 Breezing Up (A Fair Wind) (oil on canvas) by Winslow Homer/ National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA
ISG113858 Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast (oil on panel) by John Singer Sargent/ Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, MA

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)

An expatriate American, John Singer Sargent was the leading portrait painter of his era, as well as a gifted landscape artist and watercolorist. His portraits are known for revealing the individuality and personality of the sitter, such as this painting of  Madame Gautreau (left). Despite traveling extensively he was a prolific painter; making over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors during his lifetime. His admirers included that of Monet, Rodin and Degas.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Prominent realist painter Edward Hopper recorded the starkness and vastness of modern America. Unlike his contemporaries, Hopper dismissed art movements of the time, such as Cubism, and instead opted to paint urban and scenic landscapes using his own delicate schematic style. Hopper is known for his dark depictions of isolation, as in Chop Suey (right). Even though the two women are sitting at the same table, they appear to be trapped in their own worlds.


SSI43923 Chop Suey, 1929 (oil on canvas) by Edward Hopper / Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Barney A. Ebsworth



NGA352131 Blue Poles, 1952 (oil, enamel & glass on canvas) by Jackson Pollock/ National Gallery of Australia, Canberra/DACS


Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Pollock is considered one of the leading figures in Abstract Expressionism, the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide recognition. His "drip" style technique made his work highly distinctive and added a new dimension to painting. Pollock was generally recognized during his lifetime however achieved mass status after his premature death at the age of 44. When the National Gallery of Australia purchased Blue Poles (left), the $2 million dollar price tag was one of the highest ever paid for a modern painting.

Mark Rothko (1903-70)

Russian-born American painter Mark Rothko was a fundamental Abstract Expressionist artist, although he refused to classify himself as "abstract", his work relied heavily on elements of color, shape, balance and composition. One of the preeminent artists of his generation, Rothko is a member of the New York School, a group of painters that emerged mid-century as the new voice of Amerian art. Despite having high critical acclaim for a career that spanned five decades, Rothko committed suicide at the age of 66.


HST166867 (detail) Painting, 1961 (oil on canvas) by Mark Rothko/ Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA/ DACS



NGS68777 In the Car, 1963 (magna on canvas) by Roy Lichtenstein/ Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh


Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97)

The work of Lichtenstein was profoundly influenced by mainstream advertising and comic book style illustrations; his unique style was predominantly considered Pop Art, however fluctuated between Cubism and Expressionism. His work was created using stencils, thus producing his iconic rows of colored dots.


Back to top