The prevailing view of American art some thirty or so years ago was that prior to the end of World War II the United States was hardly more than a distant outpost of Paris and Europe. That assumption has lately been challenged and largely replaced by years of diligent scholarship, which has often been pursued in connection with important exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues. As a result, we are now able to see that American art was more integral to the development of early modernism than was hitherto supposed. Today, it can be fairly said that even during World War I, from 1915 to 1918, New York was a major center of world art.

We were recently reminded of this and other important matters by the traveling exhibition called “Precisionism in America, 1915–1941,” organized by Gail Stavitsky of the Montclair Art Museum. This exhibition and its accompanying...

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