World War I and American Art

Hugh Henry Breckenridge, The Pestilence (formerly War), ca. 1918, Oil on canvas, 65 3/16 x 80 1/4 inches, Gift of the Artist, 1928.10

November 2016 - April 2017

Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building

Coinciding with the centenary of America’s involvement with the war, World War I and American Art will be the first major exhibition devoted to exploring the ways in which American artists reacted to the First World War. The war’s impact on American art and culture was enormous, for nearly every major American artist of the time produced work that addressed the war. Many artists were passionately engaged in swaying public opinion for or against intervention, while others articulated their response in private out of concern for repercussions or as a way to process the conflict.

The exhibition seeks to revisit a critical moment in American history through the eyes of artists in order to show how they responded to what was an unprecedented global experience. Artists had a leading role in chronicling the impact of the war, crafting images that affected public opinion, supported the U.S. government’s mobilization efforts, and helped shape the way soldiers were remembered in its wake. Some artists showed the efforts of the Red Cross and other relief workers, or the effect that the war had on women and families on the home front. Other artists witnessed the devastation brought by the war on cities and on bodies, producing work haunted by the experience. Once the war finally ended, artists produced major paintings that commemorated Armistice celebrations or memorialized its human toll.

World War I also unfolded when modernist art was being digested, adapted, and transformed by the American art world. Images made during the war reveal American artists in transition, using more experimental forms to capture the apocalyptic tenor of the conflict but also drawing on a straightforward realist manner to make the human experience accessible to their audience.

Among the numerous artists included will be: Ivan Albright, Cecelia Beaux, George Bellows, Hugh Breckenridge, Howard Chandler Christy, James Montgomery Flagg, Henry Glitenkamp, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Lewis Hine, Carl Hoeckner, George Luks, Paul Manship, Joseph Pennell, Jane Peterson, Horace Pippin, Man Ray, Boardman Robinson, Norman Rockwell, John Singer Sargent, Edward Steichen, and Claggett Wilson.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue written by the project curators with additional contributors writing from new perspectives in history and the arts. PAFA is planning a broad range of programming and partnerships in conjunction with the project.

Robert Cozzolino, Senior Curator and Curator of Modern Art, PAFA
Anne Knutson, independent curator
David Lubin, Charlotte C. Weber Professor of Art at Wake Forest College

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the David A. and Helen P. Horn Charitable Trust.


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ public programs are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency).




General operating support provided, in part, by