June – July 1946
American Painting was the first major exhibition to be held at the Tate Gallery after the restoration of the bomb-damaged building. Organised by the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., it gave the British public what was later described as ‘its first opportunity of seeing something like the full range of American painting’.1
The show ranged from historical figures such as the Anglo-American painters Benjamin West (1738–1820) and John Singleton Copley (1738–1815) to such contemporary artists as Milton Avery (1885–1965), Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) and Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986). Abstract expressionism had yet to establish itself as an international force in the way that it would do over the next decade (see The New American Painting exhibition in 1959). However, gestures towards this new direction were made with the inclusion of key figures in the movement such as Robert Motherwell and Adolph Gottlieb.
In her essay in this publication Caroline Riley argues that the purpose of the exhibition was ‘to articulate, at least in part, the complicated role of art in the interdependent historicising of violence and recovery of culture after the trauma of war’.2 She notes, too, that the gallery was unable to produce a more lavish catalogue because of a general lack of resources, including paper, in post-war Britain.