Famous American Artists
Before colonization, there were many Native American art traditions, and after Spanish colonization, European styles started to spread. Early colonial art on the East Coast initially relied on artists from Europe.
In the late 18th century, American artists primarily painted portraits and some landscapes in the English style.
Then Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley became successful painters in London, providing the first signs of emerging American art.
American artists became increasingly skilled, and by the early 19th century, the infrastructure to train artists began to be established in the United States.
From 1820 the Hudson River School began to produce landscape painting. The American Revolution produced a demand for patriotic art, while other artists recorded the frontier landscapes.
After 1850, art in the European style flourished, and as richer Americans became very wealthy, the flow of European art, new and old, to the US began.
American Museums began to exhibit traditional and modern art, and after World War II, New York replaced Paris as the center of the art world.
Since then, American art movements have shaped Modern and Postmodern art and today covers a huge range of styles.
A Virtual Tour of American Artists You Should Know
- John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815)
- Benjamin West (1738 – 1820)
- Gilbert Stuart (1755 – 1828)
- John Trumbull (1756 – 1843)
- Edward Hicks (1780 – 1849)
- George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879)
- John Mix Stanley (1814 – 1872)
- Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816 – 1868)
- Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900)
- Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902)
- James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)
- Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
- Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926)
- Julian A. Scott (1846 – 1901)
- Daniel Chester French (1850 – 1931)
- John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)
- Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935)
- Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909)
- William McGregor Paxton (1869 – 1941)
- George Bellows (1882 – 1925)
- Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)
- Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)
- Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978)
American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930
Highlights Tour of American Artists You Should Know
John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815)
John Singleton Copley (1738 – 1815) was an Anglo-American painter active in colonial America and England. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he is famous for his portrait paintings of wealthy and influential figures in colonial New England.
His portraits were innovative in their tendency to portray artifacts relating to these individuals’ lives.
Copley sailed in 1774 for London, where he connected with Benjamin West. West was another American born painter who created a new kind of history painting, one with modern and current subjects.
Benjamin West (1738 – 1820)
Benjamin West (1738 – 1820) was a British North American artist who painted famous historical scenes. West was born in Springfield, Pennsylvania, as the tenth child of an innkeeper and his wife.
He was entirely self-taught and went on to gain valuable patronage in the American Colonies. Later he toured Europe, eventually settling in London.
The Death of General Wolfe became one of the most frequently reproduced images of the period.
West became known for his history paintings, which used expressive figures, colors, and compositional schemes to help the spectator to identify with the scene represented.
Gilbert Stuart (1755 – 1828)
Gilbert Charles Stuart (1755 – 1828) was an American painter from Rhode Island Colony who is considered one of America’s foremost portraitists.
His best-known work is his George Washington portrait, begun in 1796, which is referred to as the Athenaeum Portrait.
Stuart produced portraits of more than 1,000 people, including the first six Presidents.
He was praised for his portraits’ vitality and naturalness, and his subjects reportedly found his company highly agreeable.
“The Skater” by Gilbert Stuart, 1782
John Trumbull (1756 – 1843)
John Trumbull was an American artist during the American Revolutionary War and was notable for his historical paintings.
His painting “Declaration of Independence” was used on the commemorative bicentennial two-dollar bill.
Trumbull also incorporated the likeness of his portraits into his depiction of the signing of the “Declaration of Independence.” It is on display in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Edward Hicks (1780 – 1849)
Edward Hicks (1780 – 1849) was an American folk painter and a religious minister of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. He became a Quaker icon because of his paintings.
About 1820, Edward Hicks began to make paintings, using his previous work experience as a painter of coaches, houses, and signs to produce devotional images.
Unable to keep up his work as a preacher and painter at the same time, Hicks transitioned into a life of painting, and he used his canvases to convey his beliefs.
George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879)
George Caleb Bingham (1811 – 1879) was an American artist, soldier, and politician. He was elected as a delegate to the Missouri legislature before the American Civil War, where he fought the extension of slavery westward.
During that war, although born in Virginia, Bingham was dedicated to the Union cause. He became captain of a volunteer company, which helped keep the state from joining the Confederacy and then served four years as Missouri’s Treasurer.
During his final years, Bingham held several offices in Kansas City.
John Mix Stanley (1814 – 1872)
John Mix Stanley (1814 – 1872) started painting signs and portraits as a young man. Then, in 1842 he traveled to the American West to paint Native American life.
During the Mexican–American War, he joined an expedition to California and painted scenes from the campaign and the Oregon Territory.
Stanley continued to travel and paint in the West. He never recovered his expenses for a decade of intensive work and travel.
His portrayal of the American West is valued, and national, and numerous regional museums hold his few surviving works.
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816 – 1868)
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816 – 1868) was a German American history painter best known for his painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”
was born in Germany and was brought to the United States as a child in 1825. His parents settled first in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then at Philadelphia.
At 14, he was painting portraits for $5 apiece. Through such work, he supported himself after the death of his father. In 1834, he received his first instruction in art and soon became skilled.
In 1840, one of his paintings attracted attention and gave him several orders, which enabled him to attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in his native Germany.
Henceforth he became associated with the Düsseldorf school of painting of which his first work, “Columbus before the Council of Salamanca” (1841), was purchased by the Düsseldorf Art Union.
A companion picture, “Columbus in Chains,” procured him the Brussels Art Exhibition’s gold medal. It was the basis of the 1893 $2 Columbian Issue stamp.
Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900)
Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900) was an American landscape painter who was a central figure in the Hudson River School of American landscape painters.
He is best known for painting vast landscapes, often depicting mountains, waterfalls, and sunsets. Church’s paintings emphasized realistic detail, dramatic light, and panoramic views.
During his time, he was one of the most famous painters in the United States.
Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902)
Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902) was a painter of sweeping landscapes of the American West. He joined several journeys of the Westward Expansion to paint the scenes.
Bierstadt was born in Prussia, but his family moved to the United States when he was 1. He returned to Europe to study painting for several years in Düsseldorf.
He became part of the second generation of the Hudson River School in New York, an informal group of like-minded painters who started painting along the Hudson River.
Bierstadt was a critical interpreter of the western landscape, and he is also grouped with the Rocky Mountain School.
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) was an American artist active during the American Gilded Age and based primarily in the United Kingdom.
He was averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting and was a leading proponent of the credo “art for art’s sake.”
He found a parallel between painting and music and entitled many of his paintings “arrangements,” “harmonies,” and “nocturnes,” emphasizing the importance of tonal harmony.
Whistler influenced the art world and the broader culture of his time with his artistic theories and his friendships with leading artists and writers.
Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1, Whistler’s Mother by James McNeill Whistler, 1871
Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910)
Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910) was an American landscape painter and printmaker, best known for his marine subjects. Homer was mostly self-taught and began his career working as a commercial illustrator.
He subsequently took up oil painting and worked extensively in watercolor, creating a fluid and prolific oeuvre, primarily chronicling his working vacations.
Born in Boston, his mother was a gifted amateur watercolorist and Homer’s first teacher. She and her son had a close relationship throughout their lives.
Homer grew up mostly in then-rural Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his artistic talent was evident in his early years.
Mary Cassatt (1844 – 1926)
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844 – 1926) was an American painter and printmaker. She was born in Pennsylvania but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists.
Cassatt often created images of women’s social and private lives, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.
Cassatt enjoyed the wave of feminism in the mid-1800s, allowing relatively more accessible educational opportunities, and she became an outspoken advocate for women’s equality.
As a successful, highly trained woman artist who never married, she portrayed women and mothers with dignity and the suggestion of a more in-depth, meaningful inner life.
Julian A. Scott (1846 – 1901)
Julian A. Scott (1846 – 1901) was born in Vermont and served as a Union Army drummer during the American Civil War, where he received America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor.
He was also an American painter and Civil War artist. While recuperating from an injury, Scott took up sketching vignettes of army life.
When the war was over, he traveled to Paris and Stuttgart to continue his education.
Returning to the United States, Scott traveled west as part of a census party, painting Native Americans in New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925)
John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925) is considered one of the leading portrait painters and is known for his evocations of his era’s luxury.
He created over 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, and many sketches and drawings. He also traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, and the United States.
Many of John Singer Sargent portraits, which can be found in museums across the world, depict society’s leading lights and the opulence of their time.
Sargent was born in Florence to American parents and trained in Paris before moving to London, living most of his life in Europe.
50 GREATEST AMERICAN PAINTINGS
Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935)
Childe Hassam (1859 – 1935) was an American Impressionist painter noted for his urban and coastal scenes. Along with Mary Cassatt, Hassam was instrumental in promulgating Impressionism to American collectors, dealers, and museums.
He produced over 3,000 paintings, oils, watercolors, etchings, and lithographs over the course of his career and was an influential American artist of the early 20th century.
Childe Hassam’s most distinctive and famous works of Hassam’s later life comprise the set of some thirty paintings known as the “Flag series.”
Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909)
Frederic Remington (1861 – 1909) was an American painter, illustrator, and sculptor specializing in the American Old West’s depictions.
Remington’s artworks depict the Western United States at the end of the 1800s, featuring such images as cowboys, American Indians, and the United States Cavalry.
His style was naturalistic, sometimes impressionistic, and his focus was on the West’s men and animals, with landscape usually of secondary importance.
George Bellows (1882 – 1925)
George Bellows (1882 – 1925) was an American realist painter known for his bold depictions of urban life in New York City. Bellows was part of the Ashcan School, an artistic movement in the United States during the early 20th century.
Best known for works portraying scenes of daily life in New York, often in the city’s more impoverished neighborhoods.
The movement has been seen as symbolic of the spirit of political rebellion of the period.
Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)
Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967) was an American realist painter and printmaker. While he is best known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching.
His spare but highly planned renderings reflected his vision of modern American life. Hopper’s influence on the art world and pop culture is undeniable.
Many artists have cited him as an influence, including Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, and Mark Rothko. Hopper’s cinematic compositions and dramatic use of light and dark have made him a favorite among filmmakers.
In focusing primarily on quiet moments, very rarely showing action, Hopper employed a form of realism adopted by another leading American realist.
Grant Wood (1891 – 1942)
Grant Wood (1891 – 1942) was an American painter best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest.
From 1922 to 1928, Wood made four trips to Europe, where he studied art. He studied Impressionism and post-Impressionism; however, it was the work of Jan van Eyck that influenced him to take on the clarity of this technique.
From 1922 to 1935, Wood lived in Cedar Rapids, where he helped found the Stone City Art Colony to help artists get through the Great Depression.
He became a great proponent of regionalism in the arts. Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa’s School of Art from 1934 to 1941. The day before his 51st birthday, Wood died of pancreatic cancer.
Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978)
Norman Rockwell (1894 – 1978) was an American painter and illustrator whose works achieved broad popular appeal in their reflection of American culture.
Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life that he created for “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine over nearly five decades.
After “The Saturday Evening Post” published the “Four Freedoms’ series, it received millions of reprint requests.
The Four Freedoms were issued as posters by the United States Government Printing Office and as postage stamps by the United States Postal Service. By the end of the war, four million posters had been printed.
These are his best-known works and became some of the most widely distributed American paintings. At one time, they were commonly displayed in post offices, schools, clubs, railroad stations, and a variety of public buildings.
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- Demuth Museum
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
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The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.”
– Eugene Delacroix
Photo Credit: 1) Edward Hopper, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Grant Wood, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Gilbert Stuart, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons