American Art Collection

American art at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art includes painting, sculpture and works on paper made in the United States from the 18th century through World War II.

Comprised of approximately 600 works of art, the collection’s strength rests primarily on its nearly 300 paintings and significant holdings of watercolors and drawings and constitutes one of the nation’s finest public collections of American art.

The Museum Trustee’s first American acquisition was Gilbert Stuart’s The Right Honorable John Foster (1791), acquired in 1930. Another important early purchase was Raphaelle Peale’s Venus Rising from the Sea – A Deception (ca. 1822).

The collection grew considerably over the following four decades through a steady, measured stream of purchases and gifts. A series of key gifts from the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation, beginning in the 1970s, enhanced the collection significantly, including: John Singleton Copley’s John Barrett and Mrs. John Barrett (both ca. 1758), Frederic Edwin Church’s Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (1870), Winslow Homer’s Gloucester Harbor (1873), John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. Cecil Wade (ca. 1886) and Thomas Eakins’ Monsignor James P. Turner (ca. 1906). Significant recent acquisitions such as Thomas Cole’s The Mill, Sunset (1844) and Fitz Henry Lane’s “Starlight” in Harbor (1855) have been made through The Ever Glades Fund.

Portraiture is represented by many exquisite examples, including works by Ralph Earl, Benjamin West, Thomas Sully, George Wesley Bellows and Peter Hurd. American landscapes include scenes by John Frederick Kensett, Martin Johnson Heade, George Inness and Thomas Moran.

Major canvases by Severin Roesen, William Merritt Chase and John Frederick Peto enrich the Museum’s strong holdings of still life. Narrative paintings by such artists as Francis Edmonds, William Sidney Mount and Henry Ossawa Tanner provide insight into daily life at home and abroad in the 19th century. George Caleb Bingham’s Fishing on the Mississippi (1851) and Canvassing for a Vote (1852) illuminate life on the American frontier.

Superb compositions by Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson, George Fuller and Frederic Remington testify to the varied styles and themes that characterized the Gilded Age. Twentieth-century realism is exemplified in paintings by Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper.

Remarkable canvases by Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove suggest the wide range of abstract tendencies in early American modernism. Midwestern regionalism is represented in rural subjects by Kansan John Steuart Curry and Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton. Benton’s bequest of 45 paintings and drawings in 1975 made the institution the largest public collection of his art. The Museum also holds Benton’s well-known Hollywood (ca. 1937) and Persephone (ca. 1938).