The objects in the Art Institute of Chicago's collection of American art range from skillful portraits and finely crafted furniture of the colonial period to sculptures and landscape and genre paintings of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These objects reflect the changing values of the land and its people over two centuries that saw the establishment of national independence, a civil war, westward expansion, and the United States' development as an international power.

Since its founding in the late 19th century, the Art Institute has collected and supported American art in numerous ways. A series of annual exhibitions initiated in 1888 created a showcase for the work of contemporary American artists until the 1980s. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago included an exhibition of American art that featured Winslow Homer's 1885 The Herring Net. This monumental work was then purchased by one of the museum's largest donors and American art advocates, Martin A. Ryerson. Among the Art Institute's donors, the Friends of American Art, a purchasing group founded in 1910 and still active, has worked to continually enhance the American collection.

Winslow Homer. The Herring Net, 1885. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.