Collection

Works by United States artists from the French National Collections, 1620-1940  

Artistic training in Paris

During the second half of the 19th century, a stint in Paris was a virtual necessity for aspiring American artists. Paris was recognized as the international capital of art, the locus of the most advanced and sophisticated artistic trends. Earlier in the 19th century, study abroad was not culturally or financially feasible for most American artists. But after the end of the Civil War, the United States attained unprecedented wealth and international influence. American patrons travelled to France and spent more expansively than they had before. And American art students began to come to Paris in unprecedented numbers. In Parisian academies, these students learned how to create the works that would appeal to European viewers as well as to newly sophisticated American collectors. Many young artists and architects studied with teachers like Jean Lefebvre and Alexandre Cabanel at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. Mary Cassatt came to Paris in the 1870s to study with Jean-Léon Gerôme and Thomas Couture. Around the same time, John Singer Sargent was a student in the atelier of the noted portraitist Carolus-Duran. Some artists never really returned from these early years of expatriation: James MacNeill Whistler and Walter Gay, for example, spent more years abroad than they did on their native American soil. Yet American artists who are strongly associated with domestic themes received their artistic training in Paris as well. Thomas Eakins studied in Gérôme’s Paris atelier from 1866-1870. Winslow Homer spent a year in Paris in 1867, painting landscapes. The trend continued unabated into the early 20th century; even the confirmed regionalist Thomas Hart Benton studied at the Académie Julien from 1909-1913. The American art of the later 19th and early 20th centuries was profoundly shaped and influenced by the academic training that nearly all American artists of this era received in Paris.