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

Images of War, 1914-1918

The First World War effected significant changes in American art. Artists who had previously painted landscapes began to represent themes of war instead. Childe Hassam, perhaps the foremost of the American Impressionists, responded to the declaration of war with a series of popular and overtly patriotic paintings, rendering American flags and bunting in vivid impasto. However, like most other Impressionist painters, he chose not to represent the realities of combat. But the war brought a new generation of American artists to France, and many of them did record their experiences in novel styles that anticipated the social realism of the 1920s. Many images were produced by untrained artists who came to France to work as soldiers or relief workers, such as Jack Morris Wright.

American sculptors responded to the war by commemorating its victims. In the years immediately after the war, a series of public monuments by American artists dotted the French landscape. Some of these memorials were erected only to be destroyed several decades later in the Second World War, such as Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s graceful Monument to the Landing of the American Troops. Others, like the colossal American Memorial erected by Frederick MacMonnies at Meaux, stand to this day. After the Battle of Verdun, the sculptor John Flanagan cast a commemorative medal that celebrated one of the war’s decisive moments in a more intimate register.

In some cases, the war forged lasting bonds between the French and the Americans who had travelled to their country. Philanthropist and art patron Anne Morgan travelled to France as an aid worker just after the war. She soon became involved in the creation of a foundation that was intended to further artistic dialogue between the two countries. After purchasing the ruins of a historic château in Picardie, she founded the Musée franco-américain de château de Blérancourt there to showcase the fruits of Franco-American artistic cooperation. Today the Blérancourt museum possesses a remarkable collection of American drawings and paintings from the war years. It remains a monument to the international cooperation born of those years of crisis.