“Art Discovers America” is a patriotic World War II-era educational film about American artists made by the artist and collector Alfredo Valente, an Italian immigrant. In the 1930s, with profits from his photography business, Valente began to collect paintings by artists he considered to be American masters. The filmmaker’s personal relationships with the artists portrayed in the film—including Raphael Soyer, John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, and Abraham Walkowitz—are reflected in the staged footage he shot of them working in their studios or en plein air.
The film was made independently and distributed by MGM, and within a year had it been bought by the Loews studio and made into a longer educational film called “Grandpa Called It Art” (1944). Although the Archives of American Art does not have a copy of the later film, the title suggests it may not have retained the same passionate admiration of the artists that characterizes Valente’s film.
This print came to the Archives of American Art in the Alfredo Valente papers, 1941–1978, and the film’s subsequent fate suggests that few prints of Valente’s film were probably ever made or seen. The Archives received funding from the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve it in 2009, resulting in the video you see here. Unfortunately, irregular frame intervals in the original print result in some distortion of the picture and sound of the projected film, but even still, Valente’s enthusiasm for his subject, and his rare access to his artist friends, comes through.
Megan McShea is the audiovisual archivist at the Archives of American Art.