An American Collection

4 Feb 2016 – 1 Jan 2019

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Spanning the period 1820-1970, An American Collection features approximately 100 works from the National Academy’s extensive permanent collection.


Intending the Academy to be an organization of leading American artists and architects, the founders stipulated that upon election, National Academicians were required to donate a representative work to the institution. This rule has guided the formation of a unique collection, which unlike most others, has been formed almost exclusively by gifts from the artists and architects. As the Academy was founded in 1825, long before the advent of museums as we know them today, the goal of forming a collection was stimulated by the desire to assemble a body of work that would represent the styles, tastes, and achievements of American art and architecture, principally by Academicians.

Hung chronologically, this installation of paintings presents the evolving collective viewpoint of the Academy’s membership, and conveys the unique identity of this institution. The gallery covers a broad span of styles and movements from the Romantic era of the 1820s through the re-emergence of Realism in the 1960s and 1970s. While extensive, the Academy’s collection is not entirely comprehensive. For instance, in the 20th century the institution struggled until the 1970s to grapple with modernism and abstraction. Today the National Academy houses a significant collection of art and architecture, and continues to build its contemporary holdings as new members are elected each year. The result is a collection with its own unique character, flavor, and insight into the rich history of American art and architecture told through the eyes of National Academicians.

This exhibition is organized by Diana Thompson, Senior Curator of the Collection.

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