The Brooklyn Museum holds one of the oldest and finest public collections of American art in the world. Begun in 1846 with the gift of Francis Guy's Winter Scene in Brooklyn</i> (circa 1819–20), the collection was formally established in 1855 when a purchase fund bequeathed by the key Museum founder, Augustus Graham, was used to commission a landscape by Asher B. Durand. The American holdings have grown to include paintings, sculptures, watercolors, pastels, drawings, and prints ranging in date from circa 1720 to 1945. (American art dated after 1945 is assigned to the collection of Contemporary Art.) Highlights of the paintings collection include, from the eighteenth century, iconic portraits of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and Charles Willson Peale. Another renowned work is the Museum's version of Edward Hicks's The Peaceable Kingdom (circa 1833–34).
Among the famous nineteenth-century landscape and figure painters represented are Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, George Inness, Eastman Johnson, William Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, Albert P. Ryder, and John Singer Sargent. American Impressionist masterworks include Sargent's Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife (1889), John H. Twachtman's Meadow Flowers (circa 1892), and Childe Hassam's Late Afternoon, New York: Winter (1900). Turn-of-the-century urban realism is well represented by the works of The Eight and the Ashcan School. The collection is also strong in early modernist works, including paintings by Max Weber, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Charles Sheeler, and Stuart Davis.
Major works by Homer and Sargent are the most famous images in an extensive collection of watercolors that surveys use of the medium over three centuries and also includes important works by Edward Hopper, John Marin, Charles Burchfield, Mark Rothko, and Norman Rockwell. The artists Mary Cassatt, Robert F. Blum, Twachtman, Chase, Arthur B. Davies, and Everett Shinn are represented by masterly works in pastel, another strong area within the American collection. Drawings in the collection range in date from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century and include significant works by John Singleton Copley, Hudson River School artists, the American Pre-Raphaelites, and Ralph Albert Blakelock. The American print holdings are particularly strong in works by Winslow Homer, artists of The Eight and the Ashcan School, and American modernists.
Highlights of the sculpture holdings are William Rush's great wood carving Winter (1810) and Hiram Powers's famed marble Greek Slave (1869), in which the mid-century Neoclassical style reached its apogee. The collection is especially rich in later nineteenth-century Beaux-Arts bronzes, including works by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Frederic MacMonnies, and Olin Levi Warner. It includes landmark modernist works in bronze and stone by Elie Nadelman, Gaston Lachaise, and John B. Flannagan, as well as exemplary works by Malvina Hoffman and the famed African American carver William Edmondson. The Museum also houses an important collection of architectural sculpture and ornament, much of it displayed outdoors in the Steinberg Family Sculpture Garden.
Many works from the American collection are now displayed alongside related objects from the Brooklyn Museum's decorative arts, Spanish colonial, contemporary, and Native American holdings in American Identities: A New Look. This installation represents one of two parts of the Luce Center for American Art, the second of which is the Visible Storage ? Study Center, a five-thousand-square-foot facility immediately adjacent to the American Identities galleries. In Visible Storage some two thousand objects are available for viewing, study, and enjoyment by Museum visitors. Works in both sections of the Luce Center for American Art are also accessible online.
The American Art Council, whose members share an interest in American fine and decorative arts, supports many of the department's programs.