From colonial times into the 19th century, art was a luxury for most Americans. For those with the means to buy art, portraits preserved the likenesses of family members and community leaders. This gallery contains a portrait of "Mrs. Polly Hooper" (pictured) by Gilbert Stuart who also painted several portraits of George Washington, the most famous of which is reproduced on the dollar bill.
For early American landscape artists, the seemingly endless expanse of the American wilderness symbolized the country’s potential for greatness. Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole, Asher Durand and John Frederick Kensett led the way with paintings of panoramic views rendered with precise detail. These serene and awe-inspiring vistas, in which a small figure often communes with nature, were intended to evoke elevated thoughts and feelings as well as immense pride in America. Virginia artist Flavius Fisher paints a luminous depiction of Virginia’s "Dismal Swamp" (pictured).