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Great art in the USA

Twenty of  America's world-class art museums 

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A learner's guide to discovering the United States

Index : The great collections Modern art collections American art

Art collections from the origins to today

 Art collections have existed since the beginning of civilization.
    Since the times of the Pharaohs and even earlier, people with power and wealth have like to surround themselves with works of art. Collecting and commissioning art has long been a pastime of the wealthy,  a way for them -  consciously or unconsiously - of ensuring their place in history and their image for posterity. Art has also been seen for almost all time  as an investement, and even before the Classical age, works of art - particularly statues and sculpted artefacts - were traded over long distances.
    In medieval Europe, the great patron of the arts was the Catholic church, aided and seconded by kings and princes and dukes, who commissioned altarpieces and devotional art for their churches and chapels - a certain part of which can still be seen to this day, some of it in the USA.  From the Renaissance to the early 19th century, aristocratic patrons of the arts were joined by wealthy merchants who sought out commissioned, and sometimes just stole art to decorate their mansions. It is their collections that today help fill the great art galleries of Euope in particular, but also those of other countries.
    The Industrial Revolution, which started in the 18th century, created some colossal fortunes, particularly in 19th century America. The "robber barons" (a title given to some of the richest men of the Gilded Age in US history - including Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller), along with other captains of industry,  bought up fabulous collections of art from around the world - including whole buildings - which they shipped back to the USA. Their acquisitions, along with works of art bought by later millionaires and philanthropists, now make up a major part of today's great public and private art collections in the USA.
    However American collectors and patrons of the arts did not just look to the past. Like earlier patrons, they sought out contemporary artists, sponsoring new work, new ideas, new art forms.. It was American collectors who helped pull French Impressionist art out of obscurity and into the international limelight where it has remained to this day – which explains why many of the world's biggest collections of French  Impressionist art are in the USA.
    In the twenty-first century, "art" is a business like no other, and also the beneficiary of plenty of private investment. Wealthy individuals, corporations and benefactors continue to subsidize spending on the arts, and the creation of new galleries, new wings and new collections. Nowhere in the Western world is this more the case than in the United States.

Greatest general and classic art galleries in the USA

These are the major American art galleries that are generally considered to have some of the finest overall art collections of world art

Greatest modern and contemporary art collections in the USA

The term Modern Art is best used to describe all non-classic art movements from the late 19th century onwards. Modern art collections contain works that may start with the French Impressionists. The Term contemporary art is used to describe the work of living artists and more generally of artists working since  the second half of the 20th century.

Greatest collections of American Art

The following are museums devoted specifically to American Art. However, American artists also feature prominently in most of the galleries in the two sections above.  

For more background to the USA.....

Book / ebook     A Background to modern America -  people, places and events  that have played a significant role in the shaping of modern America. A C1-level Advanced English reader for speakers of other languages, and anyone wanting to  learn some of the background to today's USA.  Twenty-two texts, with vocabulary guides and exercises. Linguapress 2023.

For California, discover About-California.com, a short guide for visitors.

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Photo top of page. Masterpieces in the Metropolitan Museum, New York

Portrait of Ginevra de Benci, the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci on show in the Americas.
Washington, National Gallery of Art

Van Gogh
Van Gogh - the postman - Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper - Ground swell .  Washington, National Gallery of Art

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Photo credits. Top of page. From Sunday Afternoon in the Met, a photo collection by John Gillespie. Creative Commons 2.0 licence   
Other photos: public domain

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