The American realist Rockwell Kent was born in Tarrytown, New York. He first studied painting during the summer of 1900 under William Merritt Chase while attending the Columbia University School of Architecture. In 1904 he enrolled in the New York School of Art, where he studied under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller. Kent’s many interests—architecture, painting, illustration, carpentry, and writing—where enhanced by the widespread often exotic, locales he visited, including Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, France, Ireland, Greenland, and the Soviet Union. As he traveled, he kept journals, some of which were later published with great success.
Although he was grounded in the American realist tradition, Rockwell Kent rarely painted urban scenes like his contemporaries George Bellows and John Sloan. Instead he drew inspiration from nature’s grandeur and humanity’s relationship to its monumental forces. His early work greatly appealed to Duncan Phillips.
After his first one-person show at Claussen Gallery, New York, in 1907, Kent participated in most of the major progressive exhibitions of the time except the Armory Show. In 1911, while organizing an independent exhibition to be held at the Society of Beaux Arts Architects in New York, he met and became close friends with Marsden Hartley, and in 1918 Duncan Phillips began to support him with great enthusiasm.
The federal Public Works Administration commissioned Kent in 1935 to paint two murals for the new post office building in Washington, D.C. Although he enjoyed acclaim as a major American artist during the 1930s, his artistic achievements were later overshadowed by his political activities. In 1960 he presented the Soviet Union with eighty of his paintings as well as a number of prints, drawings, and manuscripts, which were divided among four Soviet museums. Kent died in 1971.