20th Century

Realism and Abstraction

Artists in the twentieth century chose two distinct ways to depict modernism and the excitement of progress—realism and abstraction. Both are well represented in the collection. The museum has the largest collection of New Deal art and murals in the country. Images of jazz and street life, farms and factories, workers and families captured a changing America, from Thomas Hart Benton’s Midwest to Jacob Lawrence’s Harlem. In Cape Cod Morning Edward Hopper captures the post-war mood of anxiety in this stark, ambiguous painting.  John Sloan and Andrew Wyeth are among other realist painters in the collection.

Some American modernists found new ways of depicting the spirit of their age. The dynamic rhythms of modern life energized artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella, while artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline reveled in the freedoms and frustrations of abstraction, and in turn inspired the next generation of painters such as Richard Diebenkorn and Kenneth Noland. Important twentieth-century artists such as Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Wayne Thiebaud, Alfred Jensen, and Philip Guston explored questions about subject, composition, color, and technique.

The museum has an extensive collection of large-scale paintings by Washington Color School artists, who were conducting innovative experiments with color and form between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s, including Leon Berkowitz, Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Sam Gilliam, Fel Hines, Jacob Kainen, Howard Mehring, Paul Reed, and Alma Thomas.

In recent years the museum has added to the collection works from the late twentieth century by artists such as Jennifer Bartlett, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Eric Fischl, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Nam June Paik, Philip Pearlstein, Renée Stout, Mark Tansey, and William Wiley.

Selected Works