Rockwell Kent: The Rise, Fall and Comeback

Katherine20th Century Art, American Paintings, Artist Spotlight, In the GalleryLeave a Comment

Rockwell Kent

Rockwell Kent is often identified with the American Social Realists. He had many important influences while studying art. Among those was William Merritt Chase while at the Shinnecock Hills School and Robert Henri at the New York School of Art. Some of Kent’s fellow classmates were George Bellows and Edward Hopper. Rockwell Kent’s style was further shaped during his apprenticeship with Abbott Thayer at Dublin, New Hampshire. It was Robert Henri, however, who encouraged him to go to Monhegan Island, which would become the subject of many paintings. Here he became drawn to the power of nature in its rugged form. Continuing to find inspiration in nature throughout his career, he would live and paint in Maine, Newfoundland, Alaska, Greenland, and the Adirondacks, capturing the environment as he saw it.

Rockwell Kent | Ackerman's Fine ArtBy the 1930s, Kent had become one of the most renowned painters, printmakers and illustrators in America. Rockwell Kent was also a strong political activist, who supported radial causes. Kent believed in the ideals of communism, but never claimed to be part of the communist party. Due to some of his actions and outspokenness, he became the subject of an investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on un-American Activities.  In the eyes of public perceptions, galleries and museums in the United States, his popularity fell during the 1940s and 1950s, as America was in the midst of the “Red Scare”.  This was also the time when Abstract Expressionism was coming into favor within the art world.  This was another contributing factor to Kent’s decline. The art historian, Carl Zigrosser, described the fluctuations of Kent’s career as going from “extravagant praise to fanatic denunciation” as a phenomenon “based on non-aesthetic considerations or a misunderstanding of the real import of his work.”

In the late 1960s, museum and gallery exhibitions began to show his work again in an attempt to restore his place in American art history. The momentum continued after Rockwell Kent’s death in 1971 and continues even now. Today his works are collected by major American museums and important private collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and National Gallery of Art.


Kenny Ackerman is an Art Dealer in New York, specializing in Fine Art Paintings from 19th-21st century Europe and America. To buy or sell original paintings by artists we represent, contact Ackerman’s Fine Art here.

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