Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection

Media - 1986.6.92 - SAAM-1986.6.92_3 - 135150

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

Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection presents some of the most treasured artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent collection, including works by Will Barnet, Isabel Bishop, Paul Cadmus, Arthur Dove, Nancy Grossman, Edward Hopper, Wolf Kahn, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Jacob Lawrence, Reginald Marsh, Ben Shahn, and Honoré Sharrer, among others. The exhibition includes seventy paintings and sculpture from the 1910s to the 1980s that encompass the range of what can broadly be called modern realism, from socio-political to psychological, from satirical to surrealist. The artworks on display were selected by Virginia Mecklenburg, chief curator at the museum.

Description

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.

A painter herself, Sara Roby sought out art broadly defined as realist and artists concerned with principles of form and design that she had learned as an art student, first at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and later with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League in New York. The resulting collection captures both the optimism and the apprehension of the years following World War II. Many of the works are poignantly human, such as Dowager in a Wheelchair (1952) by Philip Evergood, while others are whimsical, like Gertrude and George (1979) by Richard Merkin. Still others, by artists such as Roy De Forest and Robert Vickrey, challenge us to decipher meanings imbedded in complex, sometimes enigmatic scenes.

Sara Roby refused to be bound by current trends when she began collecting in the 1950s. 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, including Stuart Davis, Louise Nevelson, and Mark Tobey. Roby and her advisors recognized that modern life allowed for many kinds of realism.

Visiting Information

February 28, 2014 August 16, 2014
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Free Admission

SAAM Stories

Splash Image - Art Critic William Kloss on American Art's Roby Collection
03/12/2014

In 1952 Sara Roby established a foundation to encourage artists creating figurative works, at a time when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant force in the art world in the years following World War II.

A photograph of Howard Kaplan on a plane.
Howard Kaplan
Writer

Online Gallery

Media - 1986.6.60 - SAAM-1986.6.60_2 - 135785
George Tilyou’s Steeplechase
Date1932
oil and egg tempera on linen mounted on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.96 - SAAM-1986.6.96_1 - 50926
Coney Island Beach
Date1951
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.59 - SAAM-1986.6.59_1 - 79966
Bathing – Pick-A-Back
Date1952
pen and ink, ink wash, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.70 - SAAM-1986.6.70_2 - 135135
The Farewell
Date1952
casein on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.63 - SAAM-1985.30.63_1 - 79965
Pine Trees
Date1955
watercolor and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.79 - SAAM-1986.6.79_2 - 135607
Canticle
Date1954
casein on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.82 - SAAM-1986.6.82_2 - 135125
Fear
Date1954
egg tempera on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.86 - SAAM-1986.6.86_2 - 135620
Night of the Equinox
Date1917-1955
watercolor, brush and ink, gouache, and charcoal on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.19 - SAAM-1986.6.19_2 - 135591
Memo
Date1956
oil on linen
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.28 - SAAM-1986.6.28_1 - 9427
Timescape
Date1956
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.40 - SAAM-1986.6.40_1 - 88321
A Hunger Fantasy
Dateca. 1947
watercolor and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.33 - SAAM-1985.30.33_1 - 81782
Across Four Pines (Hurricane Island)
Date1956
casein on paper mounted on composition board
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.50 - SAAM-1986.6.50_3 - 135165
Strong Woman and Child
Date1925
oil on canvas
On view
Media - 1986.6.93 - SAAM-1986.6.93_2 - 87801
Fakirs
Date1951
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.74 - SAAM-1986.6.74_2 - 134059
Thistle in the Dream (To Louis Sullivan)
Date1955-1956
cut and welded steel
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.73 - SAAM-1986.6.73_2 - 135139
The Great Moth
Date1955
pen and ink, ink wash, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.8 - SAAM-1986.6.8_1 - 81684
The Beggar
Date1956
casein on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.65 - SAAM-1986.6.65_2 - 135554
Bargain Hunters
Date1940
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.27 - SAAM-1986.6.27_1 - 9425
Shovel Hats
Date1923
oil on plywood
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.72 - SAAM-1986.6.72_2 - 134082
One and Another
Date1934
bronze on wood base
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.97 - SAAM-1986.6.97_1 - 9537
Tribute to the American Working People
Date1951
oil on composition board
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.10 - SAAM-1986.6.10_1 - 81685
Nude
Date1957
brush and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.87 - SAAM-1986.6.87_2 - 135589
Night in Bologna
Date1958
egg tempera on fiberboard
On view
Media - 1986.6.15 - SAAM-1986.6.15_1 - 53898
The Barricade
Date1958
egg tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.90 - SAAM-1986.6.90_4 - 135127
Dowager in a Wheelchair
Date1952
oil on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.54 - SAAM-1986.6.54_2 - 135614
Inauguration
Date1956-1958
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.67 - SAAM-1986.6.67_1 - 9493
Sky Totem
Date1956
painted wood
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.100 - SAAM-1986.6.100_2 - 135134
In the Summerhouse
Date1958
egg tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.20 - SAAM-1986.6.20_1 - 9415
Continuite
Date1958
marble
On view
Media - 1986.6.51 - SAAM-1986.6.51_2 - 135587
Head of a Woman
Date1935
bronze on marble base
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.78 - SAAM-1986.6.78_1 - 9508
After Titian
Date1959
tempera on fiberboard
On view
Media - 1986.6.1 - SAAM-1986.6.1_1 - 9389
Sleeping Child
Date1961
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.95 - SAAM-1986.6.95_2 - 129855
Dreams No. 2
Date1965
tempera on fiberboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.42 - SAAM-1986.6.42_2 - 135550
High Summer
Date1972
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.53 - SAAM-1986.6.53_2 - 135610
Escape
Date1967
brush and ink, pen and ink, crayon, and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.35 - SAAM-1986.6.35_1 - 9441
Green Landscape
Date1971
oil and acrylic on paper collage mounted on wood
On view
Media - 1986.6.36 - SAAM-1986.6.36_1 - 91001
Elkins Park View
Date1971
charcoal and conte crayon on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.77 - SAAM-1986.6.77_1 - 52686
Man with Coffee Cup
Date1935
pen and ink and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.99 - SAAM-1986.6.99_1 - 9541
Sag Harbor
Date1969
watercolor and rubber stamp and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.12 - SAAM-1985.30.12_1 - 52062
Drawing XVII
Date1974
oil crayon and colored pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.89 - SAAM-1986.6.89_1 - 9525
The Real Inside Story
Date1973
acrylic on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.19 - SAAM-1985.30.19_1 - 52572
5 Strap I
Date1968
pen and ink on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.68 - SAAM-1986.6.68_1 - 60127
Half Woman, Quarter Bird
Date1974-1975
bronze/cast, assembled and screwed
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)
Date1941
watercolor, gouache, ink and pencil on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.91 - SAAM-1986.6.91_1 - 53904
Landscape with Perspective
Date1975
oil and acrylic on paper collage mounted on wood
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.88 - SAAM-1986.6.88_1 - 52072
Preliminary sketch for Subway Symphony
Date1973
pencil, casein, crayon, and chalk on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.14 - SAAM-1986.6.14_1 - 90662
Fort Tilden II
Date1979
pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.25 - SAAM-1986.6.25_1 - 89256
Oil Tanker II
Date1932
watercolor and conte crayon on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.23 - SAAM-1986.6.23_1 - 88305
Black and White
Date1940
gouache on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.24 - SAAM-1986.6.24_2 - 135613
Car across the Street
Date1940
pen and ink and watercolor on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.26 - SAAM-1986.6.26_1 - 89257
Untitled
Date1942
pen and ink and crayon on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.32 - SAAM-1986.6.32_2 - 135612
Harvest
Date1978
watercolor and pencil on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.38 - SAAM-1986.6.38_2 - 135604
Cob I
Date1980
carved wood, leather, nails, paint, lacquered paint, horn, and lead
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.45 - SAAM-1985.30.45_1 - 72627
Gertrude and George
Date1979
pastel on paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.61 - SAAM-1986.6.61_1 - 9483
Ach Rèalt na Glanmhaigdine ina ga ar an Uisce
Date1979
graphite, acrylic and crayon on paper mounted on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.69 - SAAM-1985.30.69_1 - 8233
Lovers in the Snow II
Date1980
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.6 - SAAM-1986.6.6_2 - 135163
Artist’s Table
Date1931
oil on canvas
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.20 - SAAM-1985.30.20_1 - 64568
Mare Imbrium
Date1981-1982
paper, aniline dyes, ink, and graphite on board
Not on view
Media - 1985.30.2 - SAAM-1985.30.2_2 - 134801
Students, Entrance to Union Square
Date1980
oil on plywood
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.29 - SAAM-1986.6.29_1 - 9429
August 1983
Date1983
oil on linen
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.12 - SAAM-1986.6.12_1 - 52068
Male Nude (#179)
Date1983
crayon and olive green acrylic on gray paper
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.22 - SAAM-1986.6.22_1 - 88304
In Sleep
Date1983
conte crayon, colored pencils, and pastel on paper mounted on paperboard
Not on view
Media - 1986.6.98 - SAAM-1986.6.98_2 - 135171
Annunciation
Date1980
oil on linen
Not on view
Media - 1985.82.4A-V - SAAM-1985.82.4A-V_2 - 92335
In Memoriam
Date1984
hydrocal and gravel on wood base
Not on view

About The Sara Roby Foundation

The Sara Roby Foundation has long supported collection and research initiatives at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 1986, the Foundation gave the American Art Museum a transformative gift of 175 paintings, sculpture, and works on paper. In 1996, the Sara Roby Fellowship in Twentieth-Century American Realism was established at the museum. Since then, the museum has hosted twenty predoctoral, postdoctoral, and senior fellows as well as two object conservation fellows. In 2013, the Foundation made a gift to the museum to establish the Sara Roby Endowment. The endowment supports the museum’s programmatic initiatives related to realist or figurative art, including curatorial assistance, exhibitions support, acquisitions, educational and public programs, and publications.

 

Artists

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 - 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.

Arthur Dove
born Canandaigua, NY 1880-died Huntington, NY 1946

Born in New York. A pioneering abstract painter known for expressing natural forms, sounds, and musical motifs in his paintings.

Media - portrait_image_113403.jpg - 90241
Nancy Grossman
born New York City 1940

Grossman completed a fine arts degree at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and subsequently received a Guggenheim fellowship for travel abroad.

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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.

Wolf Kahn
born Stuttgart, Germany 1927-died New York City 2020

Kahn, who immigrated to the United States at age thirteen, studied with Stuart Davis (at the New School for Social Research) and with Hans Hofmann, and in 1951 he completed a B.A. at the University of Chicago.

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. He was the first president of Artists Equity and cofounder of the American Artists Congress.

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 - J0001926_1b.jpg - 89320
Reginald Marsh
born Paris, France 1898-died Dorset, VT 1954

Born in Paris, brought to the United States in 1900, lived mostly in New York City.

Media - J0002173_1b.jpg - 89368
Ben Shahn
born Kovno, Lithuania 1898-died New York City 1969

Ben Shahn immigrated to the United States as a child and was apprenticed to a lithographer after finishing elementary school. In the 1920s, he studied at New York University and City College, and very briefly at the National Academy of Design.

Media - portrait_image_113260.jpg - 90184
Honoré Sharrer
born West Point, NY 1920-died Washington, DC 2009

Honore Sharrer took her first painting lessons from her mother, who had been a pupil of George Luks.