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A Work of the People

Green River Cliffs, Wyoming

Thomas Moran, Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881, Gift of the Milligan and Thomson Families, 2011.2.1

As this distinguished roll call of works and donors suggests, the history of the recently reopened American galleries is not simply the history of the artists and their paintings but also the history of the many private individuals and foundations, whose generosity has helped build and sustain the collection. As is most prominently the case with the Henry Luce Foundation and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, significant support for American art scholarship at the Gallery has often been provided as well.

The commitment of the Gallery’s many patrons to building a representative collection of American art over the course of seven decades has succeeded in making this one of the great collections of its kind, and the southeast galleries of Pope’s West Building, where it is housed, a place where scholars and visitors may contemplate America’s collective cultural memory in profound ways. Beginning with only a handful of paintings but now numbering more than a thousand works, the American collection today reflects more comprehensively than ever before the “many mansions” in the “house of art” to which John Walker referred in 1948. As great American paintings from the nineteenth century become scarcer and more difficult to acquire, the Gallery will continue to depend of the support of private donors and foundations. Just as an earlier generation established the National Gallery of Art, the current generation will secure its greatness for the future.