Drawn from NOMA’s world-class collection of American art, Visions of US brings together paintings, sculptures, photography and decorative arts to tell a rich and inclusive story about how we imagine and represent the United States.
The Free Woman of Color pictured here was part of a dynamic, multi-racial culture in New Orleans in which people of color often had significant rights and freedoms, especially when compared to the rest of the United States. The portrait’s simplicity and naturalism reflected new trends in European art of the time, and the portrait’s sitter likely regarded the painting’s straightforward artistic style as a mark of worldliness and sophistication
In the mid-19th century, landscape painting became central to American artists’ attempts to craft a sense of place and identity for the young nation. American artists began painting grand, sweeping views of American scenery that made the landscape a metaphor for the country’s promise and potential. They often portrayed the American landscape as a vast and untamed wilderness—an endless source of power and strength. Such paintings were often a source of great inspiration and pride, but they also often registered the complications and contradictions of this progressive vision for the country, especially as more and more American land was overrun with railroads, farms, and, eventually, factories.
Asher Brown Durand’s paintings inspired a generation of American artists to revere landscape painting as the most elevated form of American art. Durand was an important teacher whose students went on to paint all across the country, from the Hudson River Valley and Louisiana’s swamplands to the American West
Meeker first visited Louisiana as a Union Navy paymaster during the Civil War, and created hundreds of sketches of its dense and tangled swamplands. Throughout his career, he created paintings of Louisiana whose hazy, indistinct views challenged many of the conventions of landscape painting of the time.
Julius Robert Hoening studied art in Düsseldorff, Germany before immigrating to New Orleans at the age of 23. In New Orleans, Hoening shared a studio with B&G Moses Photography, and quickly began advertising his services to enlarge, and paint copies of daguerreotypes and ambrotypes in oil, watercolor and ink. Hoening worked at the intersection of photography and painting at a time when the relationship between the two mediums was hotly debated.
Edgar Degas was only important French painter of the Impressionist generation to travel to the United States and make paintings of American subject matter. Degas himself grew up in France, but his mother was Creole and born in New Orleans, and he often called himself a “fils de Louisiane,” or a “son of Louisiana.”
Degas likely created this portrait of his blind sister-in-law Estelle Musson Degas in part to reconcile himself to his own failing eyesight, but the portrait also captures the rapidly fading way of life of the city’s French-speaking Creole inhabitants, who were increasingly being pushed aside by a wave of new English-speaking “American” settlers.
Robert Henri was part of a vanguard group of New York City artists known as the Ashcan School, which spurned American art academies and museums and rejected the more conservative painting style of artists like John Singer Sargent. Instead, artists like Henri sought to capture the grit and grime of modern American cities, painting the destitute and homeless, the working class and prostitutes
Tanner was the first African-American student to study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and fled the United States for more egalitarian Paris partly due to his unequal treatment in American art schools. Through paintings like The Good Shepherd, Tanner sought to convey a spirit of compassion and equality that, as he famously said, might “make the whole world kin.”
Artists like Pollock viewed abstract art as a portal to the unconscious, and felt that the act of painting could unearth images and emotions buried deep within the unconscious mind.