Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection

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The Sara Roby Foundation began collecting American art in the mid-1950s and over the next thirty years assembled a premier group of paintings and sculpture by the country's leading figurative artists. A painter herself, Roby sought out art broadly defined as realist and artists concerned with principles of form and design that she had learned as an art student, first in Philadelphia and later in New York. The resulting collection captures both the optimism and the apprehension of the years following World War II.

Sara Mary Barnes Roby was born in Pittsburgh in 1907. The daughter of a wealthy industrialist, she attended private schools in Philadelphia, was a student at Vassar College for a year, then studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and from the 1940s into the 1960s with Reginald Marsh and Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League in New York. Roby had a strong sense of social responsibility and wanted to help artists and educate the public, so she established a foundation "to foster, aid, and encourage in the United States of America the public appreciation, creation, enjoyment, and understanding of the visual arts."

In 1985, Mrs. Roby and her Foundation donated 175 paintings, drawings, and sculpture to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, seventy of which are included in this exhibition. The Museum again thanks the Sara Roby Foundation for the gift of this extraordinary collection and for continuing to support museum programs that advance the understanding of American realist art.