American Art

Great American Art from Maine to Virginia

By Alice Cavallo

New England Lighthouse, Photo: Pixabay

Fireworks, parades, picnics, barbecues, baseball games, concerts and family reunions are top of mind for America's Independence Day. With 4th of July around the corner, the Sotheby’s Museum Network is hitting the road to uncover the best American art collections to visit in celebration. Read on to discover our top favorites.

Farnsworth Art Museum

Farnsworth Art Museum - Rockland, Maine

Located in the quiet oceanside city of Rockland, the Farnsworth Art Museum is committed to celebrating Maine’s role in the development of American art, highlighting the work of major figures such as Louise Nevelson and Andrew Wyeth, whose family home is only a short drive away. Founded in 1948 by Lucy Farnsworth as a memorial to her father William Farnsworth, the museum has a permanent collection with works by three generations of American artists including Thomas Sully, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Eakins, Eastman Johnson and Frank Benson.

Insider Tip: Main Street is home to several independent galleries, bookstores, and cultural hubs. Check out Periscope for cutting-edge Nordic design, with a rotating offering of works by local living artists; savor some of the best coffee and baked goods at Rock City Cafe, or catch an independent film at the historic Strand Theatre. Plus, be sure to look up! Robert Indiana's famous EAT sculpture graces the Farnsworth's roofline.

Rhode Island School of Design Museum

Rhode Island School of Design Museum - Providence, Rhode Island

Besides having consistently been ranked among the best educational institutions in the world for art and design, this fine arts and design college located in the small but mighty city of Providence also houses a museum with a formidable collection spanning ancient art, Asian art, prints, furniture, designs and textiles alongside works by modern and contemporary artists including Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois and Richard Serra. The Rhode Island School of Design Museum maintains over 80,000 works of art, making it a must-see for fans of design and American art.

Insider fact: the Museum is the 20th largest art museum in the United States!

Barnstable Historical Society Museum

Barnstable Historical Society Museum - Barnstable, Massachusetts

The Barnstable Historical Society Museum near Cape Cod, Massachusetts just reopened in time for the summer season, marking the beginning of beach holiday time and Independence Day. This tiny house-museum located displays works that reflect the town’s local maritime history. Its collection ranges from the 17th to the 20th century and consists of antique furniture, textiles, photographs, diaries, ship logs and nautical models along with maritime paintings and artifacts from the United States' longstanding trade with China.

Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg

Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg, Virinia

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg house the distinctive collections of the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum under one roof. The DeWitt Wallace’s 15 galleries feature the world’s largest collection of southern furniture, a superb array of paintings, glass, firearms and textiles from the 17th to the 19th century and the most extensive display of British ceramics outside of England. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum was the world’s first dedicated folk art museum and today boasts more than 7,000 works of art spanning painting, sculpture, furniture and pottery - providing a uniquely rich insight into American material culture.

Peabody Essex Museum

Peabody Essex Museum - Salem, Massachusetts

The Peabody Essex Museum is a successor to the East India Marine Society established in 1799 and it has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in America. It combines the collections of the former Peabody Museum of Salem – which acquired the Society’s collection – and the Essex Institute. The museum's collections boast superlative works from around the globe and across time, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, South Asian, Oceanic and Native American. With paintings, furniture, folk art and costumes representing over 300 years of New England culture, each object from the PEM’s collection reveals the values of the communities that shaped the region of the early United States.

New Britain Museum of American Art

New Britain Museum of American Art - New Britain, Connecticut

A roadtrip through New England wouldn't be complete without a stopover at the New Britain Museum of American Art. Founded in 1903, it was the first museum in the country dedicated exclusively to American art. The rich collection includes colonial portraits, 19th century still lifes, American Impressionist painting, post-Civil Warfigural painting and modern art by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Sol LeWitt, Chuck Close, Dan Flavin, and Eva Hesse.

Insider tip: Be sure to keep an eye out for Graydon Parrish's painting The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy. The work is the largest ever made by Parrish, focusing on the tragic events of 9/11 and forming the centerpiece of the museum’s late contemporary art collection.

National Museum of American Illustration

National Museum of American Illustration - Newport, Rhode Island

The National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, was founded in 1998 by Judy and Laurence Cutler at Vernon Court, an American Renaissance mansion designed by the noted architecture firm Carrére & Hastings (also responsible for the building design of The Frick Collection and the Neue Galerie in New York City). It is the first national museum to be devoted exclusively to American illustration, with a collection comprising over 2,000 original works by well-known artists such as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth among others.

Portland Museum of Art

Portland Museum of Art - Portland, Maine

Considered the largest and oldest public art institution in the state of Maine, the Portland Museum of Art has, since its founding in 1882, amassed a significant collection of American paintings and sculptures, including more than 22,000 artworks, dating from the 18th century to the present. Besides comprising works by some of the greatest American modernists such as Milton Avery, John Sloan, Louise Nevelson and Andrew Wyeth, the museum is known to have one of the largest collections of Winslow Homer's works.

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