Featuring 99 paintings created between 1809 and the present by masters such as Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth, For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design opens Nov. 6, 2021 at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and runs through Jan. 30, 2022. These masterworks provide a unique history of American art as told by many of the best-known American artists.
Founded in New York in 1825 by artists including Samuel F.B. Morse, Asher B. Durand, and Thomas Cole, The National Academy of Design is the oldest artist honorary society in the United States. From 1825 to the present, the institution has required all academicians to donate a representative work to the Academy’s collection, and, from 1839 to 1994, the Academy also required associates to present a portrait of themselves, whether painted by their own hand or that of a fellow artist. By presenting artists’ portraits together with their representative works, For America offers an opportunity to see how the artists viewed both themselves and their country.
For America features work by Frederic Edwin Church, Eastman Johnson, Thomas Eakins, Cecilia Beaux, Isabel Bishop, Charles White, Wayne Thiebaud, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, David Diao, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Peter Saul, among others. Since the artworks span over 200 years of American history, visitors can witness an evolving United States of America within the included artists and subject matter. However, like the rest of America’s history, it is not always a story of inclusion or diversity. Until 1869, membership for the Academy was drawn exclusively from the New York City area, significantly limiting the scope of artistic representation in the collection for this time. And, it was not until 1927 that Henry Ossawa Tanner became the first African-American National Academician, and it took 40 more years until Hughie Lee Smith became the second. Rather than glossing over them, these realities are an integral part of the exhibition’s narrative.
For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the National Academy of Design.