Artists at Work Creativity at the Smithsonian

Discover the creativity of some of the artists who have worked at the Smithsonian Institution since its founding in 1846.

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William Henry Holmes (1846-1933) Renaissance Man


Dr. William Henry Holmes, Nicholas R. Brewer, n.d. Smithsonian American Art MuseumFirst hired by the Smithsonian in 1871, topographical illustrator William Henry Holmes was well known for paintings that were described as "orgies of pure color." His knowledge of geology, archaeology, anthropology, and ethnology made him a master in the scientific documentation of landscapes. His achievements included important publications on Native American cultures in prehistory and on Mayan civilization at Chichen Itza. He began his career as an artist for scientific expeditions to the American West in the 1870s, where he became interested in Native American archeology. In an impressive combination of art and science, Holmes was curator of anthropology for the Smithsonian (1897-1932) while also serving as curator and director of the emerging National Gallery of Art (1906-1932), now the National Museum of American Art. 

 

Painting of the Sea by William Henry Holmes

Watercolor painting of tangled leaves in yellow, orange, and green.

 

 

Watercolor of sparse, cloudy landscape with water and water lilies in foreground, trees to the rightColor watercolor of large stone cliff with crowd gathered and reflected in water

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