THE early greats of American painting-such men as John Copley, Gilbert Stuart and Benjamin West-were influenced chiefly by British masters. But with the winning of independence, Americans found new confidence in home talent. Untrained artists began proudly advertising themselves as "self-taught," and for the next century native portraitists, landscapists and genre painters did a brisk business. They were simple, humble men, who seldom signed their work. Many hit the road each spring, offering their services at farmhouses from Maine to Georgia.

A memorable display of the nation's early art from the grass roots...

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