The American holdings at the Cleveland Museum of Art rank among the finest anywhere. One year prior to its opening to the public in 1916, the museum purchased its first painting, John Singleton Copley’s portrait Catherine Greene, thereby launching a commitment to collecting superior examples of American art. Since then, the museum has acquired nearly 300 American paintings and approximately 90 sculptures, constituting an excellent survey from around 1750 to 1960. The museum’s historic preference for quality over quantity—a philosophy devoted to acquiring a small number of major works by important artists—has kept the collection particularly well balanced and concise.
The two greatest cores of its strength are a superb group of 19th-century landscapes and a strong selection of realist paintings from Winslow Homer through the Ashcan school to Edward Hopper. Early American modernism and Abstract Expressionism are also well represented. The collection includes such landmarks of American art as William Sidney Mount’s The Power of Music, Frederic Edwin Church’s Twilight in the Wilderness, Albert Pinkham Ryder’s The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), George Bellows’s Stag at Sharkey’s, and Augusta Savage’s Gamin. The collection also includes approximately 100 works by Cleveland artists, a gathering that exemplifies the vital role the museum has played within the local art community. In addition, the museum houses a choice collection of American decorative art, prints, drawings, photographs, and textiles, which are under the purview of their respective departments classified by media.