Throughout the centuries, artists have used their tools to canonize America's history, beauty, and the monumental events that have given form to the nation. From their reverent representations of history and iconic imagery, Americans can remember their national past. Through images of both war and peace, important figureheads, scenic landscapes, and everything in between, these painters express what makes them proud to be American. Just in time for Independence Day, here are some of the most patriotic and loved artistic representations of America, its history and its values.
The great American photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured this iconic image of a sailor kissing an anonymous nurse on V-J Day in Times Square in August 1945. The energy, bliss, and passion captured by the photograph epitomizes the overall American attitude that surged throughout the nation on this day that Japan surrendered. As LIFE reported decades later, "Eisentaedt’s photograph captures at least part of what the people of a nation at war experience when war, any war, is over."
Norman Rockwell created the "Four Freedoms Series," inspired by the speech by the same name delivered by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941. While the world was under the threat of Nazi domination, the panel series gave visual representation to the four freedoms that Roosevelt anticipated for each American: the freedom of speech, freedom to worship God in his own way, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. By translating FDR's "abstract concepts of freedom into four scenes of everyday American life," Rockwell made the ideas concrete and attainable.
Church, one of the iconic American landscape artists in the Hudson River School, painted "Twilight in the Wilderness" in 1860. The landscape painting, now housed in the Cleveland Museum of Art represents the beauty of the American landscape. Church painted this work awaiting the coming of the American Civil War. According to some critics, Church's use of red paint represents the coming of the war and "Church's opinion that that color should remain in the sunset instead of scattered across the fields." Today, it remains an emblem of the beauty and promise that reemerged in America in the wake of the conflict.
This oil painting by German American Emanuel Gottlieb Leutz is a coveted portrayal of the general and soon-to-be first President George Washington crossing the Delaware River during the War for Independence. The crossing of the Delaware was a crucial turning point in the War that offered the U.S. its eventual independence from Britain.
Jasper Johns was attempting to portray quotidian images, "things the mind already knows," but his painting of the American flag has become a national icon, far from an everyday work of art. He painted the work in 1954 during the Vietnam War era, and it now resides in the Museum of Modern Art where it continues to serve as a reminder of Ameria's stars and stripes.
This oil painting by Grant Wood was first exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930. in the midst of many artists who were turning toward urban centers and glorifying industrialization, Wood's painting focuses on a contrasting lifestyle: the simple and rural small town country life upon which America is founded. While the painting originally aroused some controversy for "poking fun" at country life, others believe that Wood's work is a celebration of the fundamental American values that served as the foundation for the country.
Frank Shepard Fairey, an American graphic artist, produced the "Hope" poster to bolster current President Barack Obama's election campaign in 2008. The iconic image of America's first African American president, featured above the word "hope," is an emblem of the American values of tolerance and progress. In the wake of Obama's election, the poster serves as a reminder of how far the nation has come since the darker days of segregation and inequality.
George Bellows painted "Stag at Sharkeys," an oil painting in the year 1909, just before World War I. The realist painting captures the reality of urban slum life as it was truly lived — gritty, ugly and challenging — in contrast to other more idealistic paintings that glorified urbanization and left out the hardships inextricably woven into city life. It is a painting that is "dark, dirty and reflective of life in a changing America," but still captures beauty and grace. Bellows reminds us of the many facets of the land of the free and home of the brave.
Joseph Stella painted his interpretation of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge in 1939, and the work representing the awe-inspiriting effect of American industrialization. In Stella's own words, "steel and electricity had created this new world. A new drama had surged from the unmerciful violations of darkness at night, by the violent blaze of electricity." This was the image and the emotion that the artist wanted to capture and convey to his viewers.