Collection

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

The Twentieth Century

In the years after the war, American artists living in France began to produce paintings and sculpture in a variety of modern styles. Romaine Brooks painted psychologically incisive portraits influenced by symbolist and surrealist schools of thought. John Marin and Arthur B. Davies made watercolour sketches that subjected natural motifs to radical abstraction. Man Ray, Alexander Archipenko, and John Storrs made sculptures out of new materials like sheet metal and aluminium that struck viewers as being aggressively modern.

Eclecticism was one of the hallmarks of American style in the early 20th century. The abstract and surreal tendencies that characterized this era coexisted with more popular, decorative tendencies that had originated in the Art Nouveau movement. The career of the sculptor Paul Wayland Bartlett illustrates the eclecticism that flourished during these years. Bartlett exhibited his small polychrome bronze animal sculptures, rendered in a flowing biomorphic style, in several successive Salons. However, in 1908, he was chosen to sculpt a monumental equestrian monument to General Lafayette, presented by American schoolchildren to the people of France. The finished sculpture, rendered in a conventional academic style, stood in the Louvre’s main courtyard until 1983. Bartlett could turn his hand to the construction of a massive commemorative statue or to the sculpture of delicate, multicoloured decorative objects, and this eclectic approach was shared by many contemporaneous American artists.

Less than ten years after Bartlett’s memorial was erected, Americans who had studied in Paris like Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes began to invent the field of industrial design. Although the sleek, streamlined graphics that they made were not necessarily considered to be art at the time, they may have shaped the look of twentieth-century modernity more than the contemporaneous projects of the artistic avant-garde.