Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection

National Tour

Portland Art Museum
in Portland, Oregon
Nantucket Historical Association
in Nantucket, Massachusetts
Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
George Tooker, In the Summerhouse, 1958, egg tempera on fiberboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Realist painting in America captured life during the crucial mid-century years. The Depression, World War II, and the Cold War that followed prompted artists to reflect on the beauty, angst, and longing for interaction that characterized this epochal time. The exhibition features nearly forty paintings and sculpture by such noted artists as Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Edward Hopper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, and George Tooker, and others whose highly personal, sometimes satirical images echoed the multivalence of post-war America. American Realism at Mid Century presents some of the most treasured artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection, all gifts from the Sara Roby Foundation.

About Sara Roby

Sara Roby (1907-1986) believed that the most effective way to encourage the visual arts in the United States was to acquire the works of living artists and exhibit them to the public. The Sara Roby Foundation began collecting American art in the mid-1950s, and during the next thirty years assembled a premier group of paintings and sculpture by the country’s leading figurative artists. In 1959, an exhibition of the Foundation’s collection opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. It was the beginning of a twenty-five-year exhibition program that circulated artworks from the Foundation’s collection to museums throughout the country.

Sara Roby refused to be bound by current trends when she began collecting. She championed realism at a time when critics celebrated abstract expressionism and promoted “action painting” in works that bore little resemblance to the natural world. Roby also was unwilling to be constrained by her own collecting criteria. In addition to paintings by Edward Hopper, Paul Cadmus and their contemporaries, the Foundation purchased abstract work by artists such as Mark Tobey. Roby and her advisors recognized that modern life allowed for many kinds of realism.


Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Sara Roby Foundation. The C. F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.