For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design

On view at various venues across the country from February, 2019 through January, 2022.

Founded in 1825 by the artist Samuel F. B. Morse and a group of forward-thinking individuals, the National Academy of Design has a simple yet powerful mission: to provide means for the training of artists and the promotion and exhibition of their art. Since its founding, the Academy has upheld a rule from its first constitution: any elected National Academician (NA) must donate one of their artworks to the Academy’s collection. In 1839, the Academy decided that any individual nominated to the preceding rank of Associate National Academician (ANA) must also present a portrait of themselves for the collection, whether painted by their own hand or that of a fellow artist. Such gifts of “diploma works” and “diploma portraits” are the defining feature of the Academy’s collection and the focus of this exhibition.

Over the decades, these submissions have grown into a distinctive collection of American art that today includes nearly every major American artist. For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design is the first exhibition to highlight this pivotal aspect of the collection—the joint presentation of an artist’s portrait with his or her diploma work. Featuring 100 paintings, For America presents not only a visual document of the Academy’s membership but a unique history of American painting from 1809 to the present as told by its makers. 

For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design is organized by the National Academy of Design in collaboration with the American Federation of Arts. The exhibition is curated by Diana Thompson, Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs, National Academy of Design; and Jeremiah William McCarthy, Associate Curator, American Federation of Arts.


National Tour:

Dayton Art Institute, Ohio
February 20 – June 2, 2019
New Britain Museum of American Art, CT
October 16, 2019 – January 26, 2020
The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, FL
February 15 – April 12, 2020
Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Memphis, TN
July 19 – September 27, 2020
New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, NM
October 22, 2020 – January 17, 2021
Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA
February 20 – May 9, 2021
Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA
June 6 – September 12, 2021
Additional Venue TBA
October 14, 2021 – January 9, 2022


For America: Paintings from the National Academy of Design
Edited by Jeremiah William McCarthy and Diana Thompson

This exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated scholarly catalogue, which provides an unprecedented glimpse into the past two centuries of American art, tracing artistic tradition and innovation at the National Academy of Design from its 19th-century founding to the present. By presenting artists’ portraits in tandem with their self-selected representative works, this book offers a unique opportunity to explore how American artists have viewed both themselves and the worlds they depicted. The diverse selection of artists whose work is showcased includes Frederic Edwin Church, Eastman Johnson, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Cecilia Beaux, Isabel Bishop, Andrew Wyeth, Charles White, Wayne Thiebaud, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, David Diao, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Peter Saul.

Essays by a stellar roster of distinguished historians and art historians, curators, artists, and architects delve into single artworks or pairs of paintings, while others explore themes such as the representation of landscapes and the figurative tradition in American art. Additionally, 18 living Academicians—including Catherine Opie and Fred Wilson—contribute personal responses to individual artworks. Contributors include Patricia Hills, Professor Emerita of American Art & African American Art, Boston University; Alexander Nemerov, Carl and Marilynn Thoma Provostial Professor in the Arts and Humanities, Stanford University; Susan Rather, Professor of Art History, University of Texas, Austin; and Akela Reason, Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia.

To purchase the catalogue, please visit American Federation of Arts.


Support for the national tour of the exhibition is provided by the JFM Foundation, Monique Schoen Warshaw, and Steph and Jody La Nasa.