The traditions in American art derive almost entirely from Europe. Yet, over the years, painting in America has compiled its own distinguished history; today its course rivals that of any European country except France.

There, four old men—Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Rouault—uphold standards they set early in the century. In the U.S., a handful of comparatively young men are setting new standards very different from those of Paris.

With a look at two such contemporaries, representing two of the strongest currents in U.S. painting today, TIME this week begins a three-part retrospective of American painting, as seen in collections now on exhibition in the...

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