American art from the colonial period to the mid-20th century constitutes the largest proportion and greatest strength of the PMA’s distinguished collection, with important paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts. Early works demonstrate the emergence of distinctive painting and craft traditions in the 18th and early 19th century, as artists transformed European styles for an American context. Portraits by Gilbert Stuart, examples of Neoclassical design, and extensive holdings of glass and ceramics (including examples of American and British wares, as well as Chinese export porcelain) illuminate this transatlantic exchange, as well as the flowering of arts in New England. The PMA’s collection reflects the expansion and diversity of artistic styles and subjects across the 19th century, with particularly strong holdings in several key areas of American art history. The development of landscape painting across the century is showcased by both regionally and nationally prominent artists (Charles Codman, Harrison Bird Brown, Fitz Henry Lane, Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and others). Winslow Homer is well-represented in the PMA’s collection with significant examples of his work from all phases of his career and in all media (paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints, including nearly comprehensive holdings of his commercial illustration). Homer and his contemporary Eastman Johnson illuminate the rise of Realism and the interest in distinctively American subjects in the latter half of the 19th century. Other highlights from the museum’s holdings of late-19th-century American art include Gilded Age portraiture by John Singer Sargent, Dennis Miller Bunker, and William McGregor Paxton; trompe l’oeil illusionism by William Michael Harnett, John Peto, and John Haberle; Neoclassical sculpture by Benjamin Akers and Franklin Simmons; and Orientalist pictures by Edwin Lord Weeks.

Since the early 19th century, Maine has been a magnet for artists who visited from cosmopolitan centers seeking both inspiration from the region’s natural beauty and freedom to explore new creative directions away from the art establishment—a tradition that continues to the present day. The PMA’s collection reflects the flowering of artists’ colonies in Ogunquit, Monhegan Island, and other areas with especially rich holdings in American art from the first half of the 20th century. Works by artists inspired by Winslow Homer and working in a realist tradition (such as Robert Henri, George Bellows, Edward Hopper, and N.C. Wyeth), by nationally prominent photographers (F. Holland Day, Gertrude Kasebier, and Clarence White), and by artists who embraced modernist styles of abstraction and expressionism (such as Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Robert Laurent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and William and Marguerite Zorach) showcase the long and productive tradition of exchange between regional, national, and international currents in American art.


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