America’s earliest form of painting was portraiture, which captured the personalities, professions, and style of contemporary citizenry, living in the 18th to the mid-19th Century. The gallery’s holdings often include classic portraits by members of the Peale family, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, and Thomas Sully. Distinguished sitters, elaborate costume, and historical importance are of particular interest in the gallery’s offerings.
19th century genre paintings depict moments from everyday life and feature both outdoor scenes and interior settings. Works by Eastman Johnson, John George Brown, Thomas Waterman Wood, and James Seymour Guy frequently appear on the horizon; on occasion, those by rare artists such as Charles Deas and Thomas Le Clear.
Impressionist artists such as John Singer Sargent, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, John White Alexander, William Merritt Chase, and the rarer James Jebusa Shannon, feature high society in both the United States and Europe, as well as family members and friends. Childe Hassam, Frederick Frieseke, and Maurice Prendergast focus on the leisurely activities of the upper classes, both domestically and abroad.
Alternatively, Thomas Eakins painted true-to-life images of his sitters, as did members of The Eight, such as Robert Henri and George Luks, who chose to paint the reality of tenement dwellers and street urchins. John Sloan and Everett Shinn depict the lives of the common man and vaudeville, leading to the development of the Social Realist and Regionalist painters of the 1920s-1950s. Reginald Marsh and Ben Shahn found inspiration in the grittiness of the City and often its social, economic, and political injustice, while Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood embrace the more idyllic panoramas of rural America.
Illustrators N. C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and Jessie Willcox Smith, and later, Magic Realists Paul Cadmus, George Tooker, and Robert Vickrey all use the figure as their central theme. Although the Postwar art world was dominated by Abstraction, artists such as Milton Avery, Robert Gwathmey, and Fairfield Porter continued to paint figurative works, while from the 1960s onward, Alex Katz used family and friends for his inspiration and Tom Wesselmann, drew fodder from commercial advertisements.