Modern American Realism: Highlights from the Sara Roby Foundation Collection

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.


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.

Visiting Information

October 20, 2018 November 28, 2018
Open Daily, 11:30 a.m.–7:00 p.m
Free Admission

Tour Schedule

Portland Art Museum
Portland, OR
October 20, 2018 April 28, 2019
Nantucket Historical Association
Nantucket, MA
May 23, 2019 October 14, 2019


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.

Online Gallery

Media - 1986.6.1 - SAAM-1986.6.1_1 - 9389
Sleeping Child
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.6 - SAAM-1986.6.6_2 - 135163
Artist’s Table
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.7 - SAAM-1986.6.7_2 - 135555
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.86 - SAAM-1986.6.86_2 - 135620
Night of the Equinox
watercolor, brush and ink, gouache, and charcoal on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.9 - SAAM-1985.30.9_2 - 135597
Green Still Life
casein, crayon, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.87 - SAAM-1986.6.87_2 - 135589
Night in Bologna
egg tempera on fiberboard
On view
Media - 1986.6.24 - SAAM-1986.6.24_2 - 135613
Car across the Street
pen and ink and watercolor on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.25 - SAAM-1986.6.25_1 - 89256
Oil Tanker II
watercolor and conte crayon on paper
Not on view
Media - 1993.22.1 - SAAM-1993.22.1_1 - 49774
Untitled (Landscape)
Dateca. 1938
ink and watercolor on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1993.22.2 - SAAM-1993.22.2_1 - 45241
Untitled (Centerport)
watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.90 - SAAM-1986.6.90_4 - 135127
Dowager in a Wheelchair
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.37 - SAAM-1986.6.37_2 - 135619
watercolor on paper mounted on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.41 - SAAM-1986.6.41_2 - 135621
White River at Sharon
watercolor and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.92 - SAAM-1986.6.92_3 - 135150
Cape Cod Morning
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1986.6.42 - SAAM-1986.6.42_2 - 135550
High Summer
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.50 - SAAM-1986.6.50_3 - 135165
Strong Woman and Child
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1986.6.93 - SAAM-1986.6.93_2 - 87801
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.94 - SAAM-1986.6.94_2 - 135547
Bone, Cup and Crab Apple
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.51 - SAAM-1986.6.51_2 - 135587
Head of a Woman
bronze on marble base
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.53 - SAAM-1986.6.53_2 - 135610
brush and ink, pen and ink, crayon, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.95 - SAAM-1986.6.95_2 - 129855
Dreams No. 2
tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.54 - SAAM-1986.6.54_2 - 135614
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.60 - SAAM-1986.6.60_2 - 135785
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase
oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.39 - SAAM-1985.30.39_2 - 135600
Nature Solitude II
Datebefore 1973
pen and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.65 - SAAM-1986.6.65_2 - 135554
Bargain Hunters
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.27 - SAAM-1986.6.27_1 - 9425
Shovel Hats
oil on plywood
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.70 - SAAM-1986.6.70_2 - 135135
The Farewell
casein on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.73 - SAAM-1986.6.73_2 - 135139
The Great Moth
pen and ink, ink wash, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.74 - SAAM-1986.6.74_2 - 134059
Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan)
cut and welded steel
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.97 - SAAM-1986.6.97_1 - 9537
Tribute to the American Working People
oil on composition board
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.98 - SAAM-1986.6.98_2 - 135171
oil on linen
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.79 - SAAM-1986.6.79_2 - 135607
casein on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
In the Summerhouse
egg tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.82 - SAAM-1986.6.82_2 - 135125
egg tempera on paperboard
Not on view


Media - portrait_image_113319.jpg - 89903
Will Barnet
born Beverly, MA 1911-died New York City 2012

Painter and printmaker, teacher at the Art Students League. Barnet's images of women and domestic scenes, distinctive in their emphasis on flat painting surfaces, are meditative in tone.

Media - J0001217_1b.jpg - 87588
Isabel Bishop
born Cincinnati, OH 1902-died New York City 1988

Painter and printmaker. Her preferred subjects were nudes, interiors, and urban landscapes—often Union Square in New York City—inhabited by shoppers and working people.

Media - J0001324_1b.jpg - 87613
Charles Burchfield
born Ashtabula Harbor, OH 1893-died West Seneca, NY 1967

Modernist painter who celebrated nature in his watercolors. During his life, he often drew inspiration from his environs, which included small-town Salem, Ohio, and urban Buffalo, N.Y.

Media - cadmus_paul.jpg - 89961
Paul Cadmus
born New York City 1904-died Weston, CT 1999

Cadmus entered the school of the National Academy of Design at fifteen with the encouragement of his parents, both of whom were artists.

Media - J0001524_1b.jpg - 87668
Philip Evergood
born New York City 1901-died Bridgewater, CT 1973

Painter and muralist. His experiences in the Great Depression led him to turn from biblical subjects to social criticism.

Morris Graves
born Fox Valley, OR 1910-died Loleta, CA 2001

A protégé and close friend of Mark Tobey, Graves grew up in the Northwest and for many years made his home on an island in Puget Sound.

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 - J0001791_1b.jpg - 89295
Yasuo Kuniyoshi
born Okayama, Japan 1889-died New York City 1953

Painter and photographer of art. His languid women in repose from the 1930s are significant, but he also painted still lifes and landscapes.

Media - portrait_image_113783.jpg - 90428
Bruce Kurland
born New York City 1938-died Buffalo, NY 2013

A student at the National Academy and the Art Students League in the early 1960s, Bruce Kurland paints tiny still lifes of birds, flowers, fruit, game, and contemporary debris (Budweiser beer cans, Coca Cola bottles).

Gaston Lachaise
born Paris, France 1882-died New York City 1935

Born in Paris, came to the United States in 1906, lived in Boston, later in New York City.

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.

Jack Levine
born Boston, MA 1915-died New York City 2010

The youngest of eight children, Jack Levine was born in south Boston of Jewish immigrant parents.

Media - J0001941_1b.jpg - 89323
Richard Mayhew
born Amityville, NY 1934

Painter. His abstract landscapes are informed by his experiences as an African American/Native American and his interest in the performing arts.

Guy Pene du Bois
born Brooklyn, NY 1884-died Boston, MA 1958

During the first years of this century, Pène du Bois worked as a monitor in Robert Henri's class at the Art Students League, but he never adopted the Ash Can subject matter favored by the Henri-circle artists.

Bernard Perlin
born Richmond, VA 1918-died Ridgefield, CT 2014

Born in Virginia. After high school moved to New York City to study art. During World War II, he traveled the world as a newspaper sketch artist.

Media - roszak_theodore.jpg - 90525
Theodore Roszak
born Poznań, Prussia (now Poznań, Poland) 1907-died New York City 1981

After art school, Roszak received a fellowship to go to Europe in 1929.

Media - J0111205_1b.jpg - 89797
Raphael Soyer
born Borisoglebsk, Russia 1899-died New York City 1987

Painter and printmaker, a twin brother of artist Moses Soyer. His sympathetic and melancholic paintings expressed the aspirations and disappointments of ordinary people.

Mark Tobey
born Centerville, WI 1890-died Basel, Switzerland 1976

Throughout his life Tobey was deeply concerned with universal themes of man, nature, and God. In 1911, full of youthful ambition, he left Chicago for New York to become a fashion illustrator. His first exhibition, at M.

Media - J0002235_1b.jpg - 89376
George Tooker
born New York City 1920-died Hartland, VT 2011

Painter. He studied with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League and later with Paul Cadmus. To achieve his haunting scenes of urban isolation and mechanization, Tooker employs the Renaissance egg termpera technique.

Robert Vickrey
born New York City 1926-died Naples, FL 2011

Vickrey attended Wesleyan University and completed a B.A. degree at Yale in 1947. The following winter he took classes with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League, then returned to Yale for a B.F.A. degree.