A term broadly applied to an early 20th-century art movement that focused on subjects uniquely American, especially urban and rural America. Usually realist in style, it was an attempt to distance American art from the domination of European influences including abstraction.
The movement ended with the decade of the 1930s and is not easy to define because representative artists did not have a rigidly held single style, but were “committed to the political, cultural and social problems of the moment” . .
American Scene painting had two distinct groups of artists: Regionalists and Social Realists, and some scholars limit the definition to Regionalists only. However, art historian Matthew Baigell wrote: “Because the two groups shared common assumptions about the function of art, I see no reason to maintain rigid distinctions between them—-particularly since neither group ever projected one comprehensive style or even a clearly defined set of sttitudes. . . . quite simply I would like to have it both ways.”
Social Realism was led by Robert Henri and included John Sloan, Reginald Marsh and George Luks, and their subjects often were scenes from New York City.
Regionalism tends to be associated with the Midwest. High-profile Regionalists were Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, Grant Wood of Iowa and John Steuart Curry of Kansas.
Also known for their regionalism were Dale Nichols of Nebraska, Cameron Booth of Minnesota, Jerry Bywaters and Tom Lea of Texas, and Peter Hurd and Ward Lockwood of New Mexico. East coast American Scene painters include Ben Shahn, Stuart Davis, Charles Sheeler, Edward Hopper, Paul Sample, and Charles Burchfield.
The term, ‘American Scene’ is likely derived from author Henry James’s collection of essays and impressions titled “The American Scene”. Published in 1907, the work focused on James’s own rediscovery of his native land after 21 years as an expatriate. The Whitney Museum, founded in 1931 in New York City to collect only American art, was a result of the American Scene movement.