The arts of the United States—a nation founded by immigrants that continues to nurture a large foreignborn population—are shaped by various histories and traditions both inside and outside its borders. Influence and exchange with the wider world fundamentally informs the art we call “national.”
Before the Civil War, Italy was the most popular foreign destination for American artists, who saw classicism as a fitting aesthetic for a burgeoning republic modeled on the political ideals of ancient Greece and Rome. Italy proved a particular draw for sculptors, such as Hiram Powers, who took advantage of readily available materials and assistants. As the 19th century progressed, many Americans were drawn to the international art centers of Munich, London, and Paris. While some of the nation’s most influential artists, including Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, chose to live much of their lives in Europe, they were active participants in stateside art activities.
Artists have also found inspiration in cultures as geographically distant as the Far East and as proximate as indigenous America. The opening of Japan to Western trade in 1853 brought East Asian culture before the American public, and painters such as Thomas Wilmer Dewing began to incorporate aspects of this work in their own. Euro-American artists also found inspiration in indigenous cultural forms. This influence traveled in two directions—in the early 20th century, Native Americans revived traditional tribal styles and techniques and adapted them for a western market.