The BYU Museum of Art boasts an impressive collection of American artworks, spanning 250 years of American art. Many of the important donations previously highlighted as well as the significant contributions of countless individuals allowed the university to increase their representations of key moments in America’s art tradition. This collection continues to expand as an important resource for university students, faculty, and our community. More highlights of American artwork can be viewed in the Museum’s Becoming America exhibition now on view.
This section also contains examples of work by international artists. The Museum of Art has been able to acquire priceless artworks from artists across the globe through the generosity of donors who believe in art’s capacity to instruct and inspire generations. Curators and staff watch for art that will strengthen our collections and, with the support of our benefactors, purchase artworks available for sale from auction, collectors, or galleries.
As you look through the exhibition, note the names of specific donors listed at the bottom of each label. Hundreds of individuals sponsors make the outstanding treasures of the MOA’s collection possible.
Abbott Thayer (1849-1921), Noon, 1921, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1998.
The museum acquired this rare painting by American artist Abbott Thayer in 1998. It exemplifies the subject for which Thayer was best known: allegorical depictions of virtuous women. His timeless angel figures aligned with his belief that art should promote beauty and transcendence. They also exemplified Thayer’s notions of model womanhood and contemporary dialogues about women as guardians of morality.
Created the year of his death, Noon may have been the last of Thayer’s angel images. The bold brushstrokes and loose sections of paint typify his more mature style, while the angel’s face, with its vacant gaze, is more clearly defined–overall, evoking the ethereal nature of a figure neither entirely rooted in earth nor heaven.
Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), Landscape, 1866, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1964.
One of America’s celebrated landscape painters, Asher B. Durand often spent summers in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, which likely inspired this harmonious scene. Like many of his contemporaries, Durand believed nature possessed a moral force and that light held divine implications. Thus, in this painting, he maximizes the light by placing the sun low in the sky over the glassy lake. His combination of strong light and reflective water evokes a contemplative serenity, echoed by the figure reclining along the river.
The University Bookstore funded the acquisition of this painting, along with two other significant landscapes. They were added to the art collection in 1964.
Anonymous North American, Southwest Native American Blanket or Rug, c.1900, wool. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Reed L. and Hazel Argyle, 2013.
The Navajo, or Diné, began weaving textiles over 400 years ago. According to their tradition, Holy Ones, called Spider Man and Spider Woman, fashioned a loom from sunshine, lightning, and rain and taught the people how to weave.
Traditional Navajo textiles became popular in the 19th century as Euro-American traders encountered Navajo blankets and began using them as floor covers. This rug was probably created around the turn of the 20th century, after Diné weavers began using stronger materials more suited for rugs and working with red, black, and gray dyes. The gray background, red details, and diamond pattern suggest that it was likely made in the Klagetoh region of the Navajo Nation, in Arizona.
Burton Silverman (b.1928), Passage, 1993, oil on linen. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1999.
Passage was featured in the Museum of Art’s 1999 exhibition Sight and Insight: The Art of Burton Silverman. The museum acquired the painting from the artist, as an excellent example of 20th century academic realism. It depicts his son, Bobby, at a time of important transition. As Silverman explained, “The title Passage came to me because I sensed Bobby was hoping to find a path to the realization of his own dreams. It was also a play on the idea of a rite of passage, something everyone goes through at some time.”
Silverman’s composition demonstrates his painterly sophistication. The bold seemingly random patches of color on the paint palette contrast with the precision of Bobby’s pensive form, both of which are juxtaposed with the in-progress painting in the background. The unfinished figure on the easel provides a metaphor for Bobby’s situation as he contemplates his future, a reflection of a growing personality taking shape.
Cyrus Edwin Dallin (1861-1944), The Scout, 1910, bronze. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1961.
Cyrus Dallin was born and raised in Springville, Utah until his natural talent convinced a businessman to sponsor his formal art training in Boston and Paris. Though best known in Utah for creating the Angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake Temple, he became nationally renowned for his dignified sculptures of Native Americans—images informed by his upbringing near Ute peoples, with whom he often played as a child.
In The Scout, a Sioux warrior astride his mount searches the landscape, both fully attuned to their surroundings. Dallin created a ten-foot high version of this piece for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where it received a gold medal. Civic leaders in Kansas City, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. vied to acquire Dallin’s large equestrian statue. Eventually, the citizens of Kansas City collected enough funds to purchase the sculpture as a tribute to the Indigenous peoples that once inhabited the region. It remains an iconic landmark of the city today.
Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924), Premier Chagrin, 1892, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Jack R. and Mary Lois Wheatley, 2000.
When Daniel Ridgway Knight exhibited “First Grief” at the Paris Salon of 1892, it garnered great acclaim. Since its acquisition by the MOA in 2000, this painting has likewise become a beloved audience favorite. Ridgway Knight’s scene of young peasants blends narrative and nostalgia, inviting reflection on this girl’s possible story and our own moments of tender heartache.
Ridgway Knight honed his mastery of the human form while studying in Paris, and developed a deep affinity for the French landscape and people. Though the artist returned to the United States to enlist in the Union Army during the Civil War, he returned to France in 1871 and remained there for the rest of his life. From his rural cottage, Ridgway Knight created idealized scenes of peasants, popular among collectors who yearned for sentimental images of “simpler” times.
Dorothy Weir Young (1890-1947), Pink Roses in a Blue Mug, c.1930, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchase/gift of the Mahonri M. Young Estate, 1959.
Dorothy Weir belonged to a dynasty of American artists, including her father, American Impressionist J. Alden Weir. She trained as a painter under her father and went on to study at the National Association of Women Artists and Painters and the National Academy of Design.
Dorothy gained recognition for her many oil paintings and woodblock prints, which often focused on portraits and still-life scenes. However, she devoted much of her time and energy to maintaining the family estate, Weir Farm, and preserving her father’s artistic legacy through exhibitions and writings. In 1931, Dorothy married sculptor Mahonri Young, a native of Utah, and continued her artistic practice until her death in 1947.
Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936), The Lovers, 1909, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Janet Southwick, 1976.
Couse was among the American artists who formed an art colony in Taos, New Mexico, in the early 20th century. He reveled in the southwest landscape and hoped to create art sensitive to its Indigenous peoples.
In this image, Couse painted his favorite Pueblo model, Ben Lujan, and Lujan’s bride-to-be, Tonita. He depicts the courting couple wearing traditional Native dress, giving the painting a more formal air. Ben Lujan became a closer member of the Couse family and eventually adopted “Couse” as his middle name. Originally, this painting was a larger horizontal scene that showed more architecture on the left, however it was cut down sometime after Couse first exhibited it in 1909.
Francis Davis Millet (1848-1912), Thesmophoria, 1894-1897, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, 2003.
Millet’s depiction of an ancient Greek festival exemplifies the decorative Aesthetic art style of the late-19th century. A procession of elegant women enact the Greek festival of Thesmophoria—a rite honoring Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. Millet created this painting as a preparatory study for a large mural in the Bank of Pittsburgh, celebrating the role of agriculture in the nation’s prosperity.
Such classically-inspired scenes of allegorical women became popular elements in the public buildings of this era. Turn-of-the-century Americans genuinely considered themselves heirs of the democratic principles of Greco-Roman civilization and would have seen these white-robed worshippers as a parade of their own forebears. Millet’s mural was installed into the classically styled bank in 1897 to much acclaim. Tragically, this popular artist died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, while en route to New York City.
Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939), Fred Tunnel and Horse in the Tetons, 1931, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Steven L. Rose, 1965.
A gifted illustrator, Frank Tenney Johnson’s western images were extremely popular, first as images in magazine and books, then as full-size oil paintings. His painting of Fred Tunnel presents the young cowboy in an almost heroic pose. Dressed in his best with ornate cuffs and boots, he stands with his steed looking over the rugged landscape.
Though Tunnel’s identity is unknown, he likely worked in the ranges near Cody, Wyoming. Johnson had a studio in that area and spent much of his time there in the 1930s. While the painting is labeled as the Tetons, some acquainted with Johnson’s work believe it is Ptarmigan Mountain near Cody.
George B. Luks (1867-1933), Portrait of a Gentleman, c.1900, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Lynn G. Foster.
George Luks sought to capture everyday American life using quick, loos brushstrokes and rich paint tones. His progressive ideas aligned him with Ashcan School, an informal artistic group interested in depicting urban scenes and working-class Americans. By championing more relevant, true-to-life artistic expression, Luks and fellow Ashcan artists challenged the more traditional style taught in art institutions at the turn of the century.
Homer Dodge Martin (1836-1897), Adirondacks, 1879, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of R.H. Burton in memory of his father Edward L. Burton, 1963.
A celebrated American landscape painter, Martin’s views reflect his poetic sense of nature and interest in natural light. Martin often spent his summers painting in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. This rugged mountain view with its craggy, storm-ravaged tree stumps is an ode to the durability of a pristine, natural world—altered by time and weather but seemingly untouched by the hand of man.
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945), Smoky Face, 1917, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gifted in memory of Dr. L. Weston Oaks and Jessie Nelson Oaks, 1989.
N.C. Wyeth created this image as an illustration for “Smoky Face,” the story of a wild mountain horse published in Collier’s Magazine. As a nationally recognized illustrator, Wyeth’s lively images quickly conveyed a story. Here, the unbridled Smoky Face becomes a personality in its own right, his muscular form dominating the foreground. The caption reads, “It was the first time Smoky Face had given that particular call but the band understood.” The horse’s dauntless stance, his mane whipping in the wind, embodies the Western ideal of strength and unfettered independence.
Wyeth was passionate about the outdoors and made multiple trips to the West, which inspired this scene of a high mountain morning. He influenced his son Andrew and grandson Jamie, who both became prominent realist artists.
Robert Reid (1862-1929), Against the Sky, 1911, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Donald W. Walls.
Robert Reid ranked among America’s most prominent Impressionist painters at the turn of the century. Though Reid is known for somewhat decorative portrayals of women, the young woman in this painting asserts a presence beyond the ornamental. Confidently poised, she is a type rather than a portrait. In an age that defined culture and beauty as feminine, the statuesque, active American girl—portrayed with predominant red, white, and blue tones—symbolized the spirited young nation. She is portrayed as seen from below, as if standing on a pedestal—an optimistic celebration of the country and its future.
Royal Nebeker (1946-2014), American Girls (Shady Grove), 2006, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Lewis and Gail Burnham, 2014.
Royal Nebeker’s though-provoking artworks fuse the world of dreams, childhood memories, popular music, and literature. American Girls evokes of adolescence, with two boys on bicycles greeting an enigmatic girl in the distance. A clipping from The Saturday Evening Post and other period magazines show ads for popular bicycles. Nebeker includes quotations from various sources along the bottom that weave a narrative reminiscent of youth, desire, and vulnerability, taken from Taoist texts, author J.D. Salinger, and lyrics from the Counting Crows song “American Girls.”
The museum acquired American Girls following an exhibition of the artist’s work in 2013. Nebeker, an Oregon-based artist who received his MFA from BYU, passed away the following year, the same year the museum purchased two of his works.
Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936), Bridge at Vernon, 1905, oil on canvas on board. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Darrell F. Smith, 1975.
Theodore Butler was one of the few American artists admitted into the inner circle of Impressionist painter Claude Monet. Butler first visited Monet’s gardens at Giverny, France, while studying art abroad in 1888. Butler married Monet’s stepdaughter, Suzanne, and later another stepdaughter after Suzanne’s early death. Butler lived much of his life in Giverny and became an influential link between Americans in France and the celebrated Impressionist master.
Butler’s loose impressionism evolved throughout his career. This paintings of the small Normandy town of Vernon differs from Butler’s typical style and shows his awareness of avant-garde, post-Impressionist styles characterized by brighter, expressive colors, dramatic angles, and heavy paint application.
Thomas Moran, attr. (1837-1926), Teton Range, 1899, oil on board. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Samuel Mayhugh, 1976.
Thomas Moran first traveled to the West in 1871 as part of a survey party documenting the Yellowstone area. Moran spent the next forty years painting majestic views of Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the Grand Canyon. His dramatic images of uninhabited lands attracted visitors and settlers to the West.
This small oil painting is likely a study Moran created outdoors. The snowcapped peak with the plunging river valley below is a composition the artist often used to emphasize the rugged terrain of the west. While many viewers assumed his paintings were realistic portrayals of specific sites, Moran sought for impressive views whose “tendencies are toward idealization.”
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), Summer Time, 1933, oil on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of an anonymous donor.
Norman Rockwell created memorable images that shared his vision of American life—telling stories at a glance, often with a sentimental or humorous aspect. After beginning his art studies at age 14, Rockwell found his passion as an illustrator. Many of his iconic images were covers for magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, Boys’ Life, and Life, and he became one of America’s most recognized artists.
Rockwell created Summer Time as the cover for the Post‘s August 5, 1933 issue. It exudes the idealizations of youth and summer’s imaginative possibilities, as three water nymphs emerge from the water surrounding the young boy’s fishing spot. In creating Summer Time and each of his magazine images, Rockwell sketched from models and photographs, and produced color studies prior to making the final, painted image. Through his methodical approach, Rockwell sought to allow each element to contribute to the message and mood of the story.
David Driskell (1931-2020), Lady in Waiting, 1992, oil and encaustic on canvas. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of The John M. and Pauline N. Fife Collection of African American Art, 2014.
David Driskell is a celebrated artist and a pioneer scholar of African American art history. Born in the hills of western North Carolina, Driskell studied art and later art history, thirsting to articulate the culture and lived experience of Black Americans. As a professor of art history at the University of Maryland, and appointments elsewhere, he played a crucial role in introducing African American art into the mainstream art world.
His brilliantly energetic Lady in Waiting is a symphony of eye-catching chroma. His image fuses figurative and abstract components using expressive, vibrant colors and layers inspired by African and African American textiles. A woman’s face is discernable at the top of the work. A child’s upturned head is visible at her knee on the left as is the shaped outline of an infant on her lap. This seated woman evokes the notion of a Madonna figure, devotedly caring for young lives.
The Museum of Art received this piece in 2014, along with several other works by celebrated African American artists. The Museum continues to seek out significant artworks by underrepresented communities for the permanent collection.