20th Century

Media - 1986.6.92 - SAAM-1986.6.92_3 - 135150

Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation, 1986.6.92

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 HartleyStuart DavisWayne ThiebaudAlfred 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 BerkowitzGene DavisThomas DowningSam GilliamFel HinesJacob KainenHoward MehringPaul 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 BartlettChristo and Jeanne-ClaudeEric FischlDavid HockneyRoy LichtensteinNam June PaikPhilip PearlsteinRenée StoutMark Tansey, and William Wiley.

Selected Works

Media - 2002.23 - SAAM-2002.23_1 - 81981
Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii
Date1995
fifty-one channel video installation (including one closed-circuit television feed), custom electronics, neon lighting, steel and wood; color, sound
Not on view
Media - 1978.34 - SAAM-1978.34_1-000001 - 5080
Yellow Calla
Date1926
oil on fiberboard
On view
Media - 1985.2 - SAAM-1985.2_5 - 125920
Achelous and Hercules
Date1947
tempera and oil on canvas mounted on plywood
On view
Media - 1969.47.61 - SAAM-1969.47.61_2 - 90585
People in the Sun
Date1960
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1991.55 - SAAM-1991.55_2 - 92291
Wheat
Date1967
oil on wood
On view
Media - 1976.108.33 - SAAM-1976.108.33_2 - 123040
Hot Beat
Date1964
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Media - 2003.31A-X - SAAM-2003.31A-X_1 - 61338
Snails Space with Vari-Lites, Painting as Performance”
Date1995-1996
oil on two canvases, acrylic on canvas-covered masonite, wood dowels
Not on view
Media - 2000.11 - SAAM-2000.11_3 - 92296
Neapolitan Song
Date1929
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1995.37 - SAAM-1995.37_1 - 12545
Jackpot Machine
Date1962
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1972.149 - SAAM-1972.149_1 - 4317
Travelling Carnival, Santa Fe
Date1924
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1969.47.70 - SAAM-1969.47.70_1 - 75720
Reservoir
Date1961
oil, wood, graphite, fabric, metal, and rubber on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1969.47.64 - SAAM-1969.47.64_2 - 128190
Merce C
Date1961
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1973.189 - SAAM-1973.189_5 - 134282
Swing
Date1969
acrylic and aluminum on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1980.6.1 - SAAM-1980.6.1_2 - 128193
The Wave
Dateca. 1942-1944
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1990.55 - SAAM-1990.55_1 - 52079
November First
Date1950
watercolor on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.92 - SAAM-1986.6.92_3 - 135150
Cape Cod Morning
Date1950
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1972.82 - SAAM-1972.82_1 - 67405
Metropolitan Port
Dateca. 1935-1937
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1980.36.13 - SAAM-1980.36.13_2 - 136235
Antares
Date1972
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1969.47.24 - SAAM-1969.47.24_3 - 127491
The Library
Date1960
tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1992.19.1 - SAAM-1992.19.1_1 - 65061
Roaring Reef
Dateca. 1951
watercolor on paper mounted on paper
Not on view
Media - 1995.3.1 - SAAM-1995.3.1_1 - 12522
Manhattan
Date1932
oil on canvas
Not on view

Related Artists

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Thomas Hart Benton
born Neosho, MO 1889-died 1975 Kansas City, MO

An American scene painter who, along with John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, was a leading regionalist painter of the 1930s.

Media - J0001840_1b.jpg - 89303
Jacob Lawrence
born Atlantic City, NJ 1917-died Seattle, WA 2000

Painter. A social realist, Lawrence documented the African American experience in several series devoted to Toussaint L'Ouverture, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, life in Harlem, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Media - J0001707_1b.jpg - 89281
Edward Hopper
born Nyack, NY 1882-died New York City 1967

Realist painter who studied with Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the New York School of Art.

Media - J0002183_1b.jpg - 89372
John Sloan
born Lock Haven, PA 1871-died Hanover, NH 1951

Painter, illustrator and teacher. With William Glackens, George Luks, Robert Henri, and Everett Shinn, Sloan was part of the Ashcan School.

Andrew Wyeth
born Chadds Ford, PA 1917-died Chadds Ford, PA 2009

Born 12 July 1917, Chadds Ford, Pa., the son of illustrator and painter N.C. Wyeth, who instructed him in art. Family divided each year between Chadds Ford and New England, especially Port Clyde, Maine; a habit Wyeth has continued.

Media - portrait_image_113620.jpg - 90333
Georgia O’Keeffe
born Sun Prairie, WI 1887-died Santa Fe, NM 1986

Painter.

Joseph Stella
born Muro Lucano, Italy 1877-died New York City 1946

Born in Italy, brought to New York City in 1896, visited Europe in later years. Artist who experimented with a variety of approaches (ranging from Futurism to classic idealism) and techniques (including oils, pastels, and collage.)

Media - portrait_image_114398.jpg - 90459
Willem de Kooning
born Rotterdam, Netherlands 1904-died East Hampton, NY 1997

Born in Holland, moved to the United States in 1924.

Media - J0001779_1b.jpg - 89291
Franz Kline
born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1910-died New York City 1962

Painter, Abstract Expressionist. Early in his career, Kline painted landscapes, street scenes and portraits. His mature style was abstract, distinctive for its broad, highly charged black strokes on a white ground.

Richard Diebenkorn
born Portland, OR 1922-died Berkeley, CA 1993

Born in Oregon, lives in California. Influential artist who won early fame for his abstract paintings but also inspired a return to figurative work through pictures he produced starting in the 1950s.

Media - noland_kenneth.jpg - 90100
Kenneth Noland
born Asheville, NC 1924-died Port Clyde, ME 2010

Kenneth Noland studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, a school that encouraged experimental art. Well into the 1950s, the college supported artists of all kinds, from painters who wanted to dance to musicians who wanted to sculpt.

Media - portrait_image_113549.jpg - 90303
Marsden Hartley
born Lewiston, ME 1877-died Ellsworth, ME 1943

Painter, printmaker. Born in Lewiston, Maine, Hartley followed his family to Cleveland, Ohio, where he won a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art. In 1899 he moved to New York, studying first under William Merritt Chase and F.

Media - J0001440_1b.jpg - 87632
Stuart Davis
born Philadelphia, PA 1892-died New York City 1964

Pioneer modernist painter who exhibited at the 1913 New York Armory Show. Davis believed that "a subject had its emotional reality," which could be gleaned through an awareness of geometric planes and spatial relationships.

Media - portrait_image_113683.jpg - 90362
Wayne Thiebaud
born Mesa, AZ 1920-died Sacramento, CA 2021

Born in Mesa, Arizona, Wayne Thiebaud became one of the most well-known Pop artists in America. His iconic images of food may have stemmed from his beginnings as a freelance cartoonist in 1939.

Alfred Jensen
born Guatemala City, Guatemala 1903-died Livingston, NJ 1981
Media - portrait_image_113699.jpg - 90394
Philip Guston
born Montreal, Quebec, Canada 1913-died Woodstock, NY 1980

Philip Guston was born Philip Goldstein in Montreal, Canada, in 1913 to Russian emigrés from Odessa. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1919. In 1925, he took a correspondence course in cartooning.

Leon Berkowitz
born Philadelphia, PA 1915-died Washington, DC 1987
Media - davis_gene_2.jpg - 89981
Gene Davis
born Washington, DC 1920-died Washington, DC 1985

[Gene Davis was] a major figure in 20th-century American painting whose contribution was invaluable in establishing Washington, D.C., as a center of contemporary art.

Media - portrait_image_114912.jpg - 90504
Thomas Downing
born Suffolk, VA 1928-died Provincetown, MA 1985

Thomas Downing received his BA in 1948 from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, and then moved to New York City to study at the Pratt Institute for two years.

Media - portrait_image_113542.jpg - 90299
Sam Gilliam
born Tupelo, MS 1933-died Washington, DC 2022

Gilliam is an innovative color field painter who has advanced the inventions associated with the Washington Color School.

Media - J0001703_1b.jpg - 89279
Felrath Hines
born Indianapolis, IN 1913-died Silver Spring, MD 1993

Painter. Hines studied design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y., and his paintings—in the tradition of the De Stijl movement—often contain strong design elements.

Media - 1981.115 - SAAM-1981.115_1 - 52742
Jacob Kainen
born Waterbury, CT 1909-died Washington, DC 2001

Printmaker who worked in woodcut, silk screen, and other media; his style gradually evolved from the social realism of the 1930s to more abstract portraits in the 1950s and later.

Charles Sullivan, ed American Beauties: Women in Art and Liter

Howard Mehring
born Washington, DC 1931-died Annapolis, MD 1978

Howard Mehring studied art at Catholic University of America, where he met Kenneth Noland, then an instructor, and Thomas Downing. The two were soon to be associated with Mehring as members of the Washington Color School.

Paul Reed
born Washington, DC 1919-died Phoenix, AZ 2015
Media - 1977.121 - SAAM-1977.121_1 - 52854
Alma Thomas

During the 1960s Alma Thomas emerged as an exuberant colorist, abstracting shapes and patterns from the trees and flowers around her.

Jennifer Bartlett
born Long Beach, CA 1941 - died Amagansett, NY 2022

Jennifer Bartlett is the daughter of a pipeline engineer and a fashion illustrator.

Media - portrait_image_114978.jpg - 138819
Christo
born Gabrovo, Bulgaria 1935-died New York City 2020

1935
Christo: American Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, June 13, Gabrovo, of a Bulgarian industrialist family.

Jeanne-Claude
born Casablanca, Morocco 1935-died New York City 2009

1935
Christo: American Bulgarian-born Christo Vladimirov Javacheff, June 13, Gabrovo, of a Bulgarian industrialist family.

Eric Fischl
born New York City 1948

Born in New York City, Eric Fischl received his B.F.A. degree from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia in 1972.

David Hockney
born Bradford, England 1937
Roy Lichtenstein
born New York City 1923-died New York City 1997

Born in New York City, Roy Lichtenstein attended the Art Students League, where he studied with the painter Reginald Marsh. He then attended the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University, earning his B.F.A.

Media - portrait_image_114969.jpg - 134917
Nam June Paik
born Seoul, Korea 1932-died Miami Beach, FL 2006

Nam June Paik (1932–2006), internationally recognized as the "Father of Video Art," created a large body of work including video sculptures, installations, performances, videotapes and television productions.

Philip Pearlstein
born Pittsburgh, PA 1924-died New York City 2022
Renée Stout
born Junction City, KS 1958

As a young girl, Renée Stout became fascinated by the Central African minkisi figural containers she encountered at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum while growing up in that city.

Mark Tansey
born San Jose, CA 1949
William T. Wiley
born Bedford, IN 1937-died Greenbrae, CA 2021