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American master class

Some of the finest paintings from across the Atlantic are about to go on display in Britain for the first time. Andrew Johnson reports

Landmark works by some of the early masters of American art are to be shown in Britain for the first time. The exhibit will include works produced in the first half of the last century by Georgia O'Keeffe, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper and John Singer Sargent.

It will be the first time that Sargent's 1906 work Val d'Aosta: A Man Fishing or Edward Hopper's 1928 Manhattan Bridge Loop have come to Britain.

The exhibition documents how artists produced by a still young nation found their own expression – leading to American dominance of art in the second half of the century, when Pollock, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol were pre-eminent.

It outlines the change in American work from traditional landscapes to the influence of impressionism on the first 20th-century masterpieces. It will also chart the development of abstract expressionism by Pollock.

Ian Dejardin, director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, where the exhibition is to open, estimated that 75 per cent of the extensive collection on loan from the renowned Addison Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, is new to these shores. "There are many paintings that haven't been seen before," he said. "The Addison collection has been put together in a very careful way to reflect the history of the US.

"I find it fascinating: American artists struggling to find a form of self expression, and then triumphing at the end. There is this whole enormous field of art with a fascinating story behind it, which people aren't familiar with here."

The Addison Gallery, founded in 1931, specialises in collecting the work of US artists and has one of the world's greatest collections.

The Coming of Age: American Art 1850s to 1950s show ties in with an exhibition of early American lithograph prints at the British Museum in April. The museum will be displaying its collections of screen prints by American masters – many created during the Depression. The exhibition includes early work by Edward Hopper and Louise Bourgeois, as well as the earliest surviving sketch by Willem de Kooning. It will be the first exhibition of the work for a generation.

Coming of Age: American Art 1850s to 1950s is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery from 14 March to 8 June