• View of one exhibition room

American Beauty – Art from Craft in 19th Century America

14 March – 1 November 2009

This comprehensive exhibition showcased the Museum’s world-renowned folk art collection. It brought ‘centre stage’ over one hundred star pieces – exceptional artworks often missed by visitors on the main museum tour route.

In preparation for American Beauty, many of our paintings and sculptures were cleaned and consolidated. These treasures never looked better during their time at the Museum – especially the child portraits by William Matthew Prior and his brother-in-law, Sturtevant Hamblen. Now that the discoloured varnish has been removed, these magnificent pictures have been revealed in all their delicate glory.

Interest in folk art – especially the American tradition – is well on the rise. Its democratic celebration of the ‘every man’ is infectious and joyous. This exhibition introduced our largely British audience to this distinctly American aesthetic. Illustrating the democratic ideals of the new republic and the ingenuity of its inhabitants, this art was made “of the people, by the people, for the people”.