U.S. Expatriates

U.S. Expatriates
U.S. Expatriates

Since the beginning of the U.S. republic, artists and writers have felt the need to study, paint, and write in Europe while maintaining their U.S. citizenship. For these artists, insecure about their young nation's rawness, Europe long represented true civilization, steeped in aristocratic traditions. Before 1850 some U.S. painters trained in Europe, but few stayed beyond their apprenticeships.

By the middle of the 19th century, some found it more advantageous to their careers to stay. John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt spent major parts of their painting careers in Europe; James McNeill Whistler, who left for Europe at age 21, never returned home. By 1904 the California impressionist Guy Rose observed that Giverny, where Claude Monet lived and painted, was overrun by American artists.

Affluent writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton began to establish residences in Europe during the late 19th century. By 1900 Ezra Pound had installed himself in London, and shortly afterward Gertrude and Leo Stein left Baltimore for Paris, where they became important patrons of modern art.


U.S. artists understood that they could only keep up with trends in modern art (cubism, fauvism) by going to Paris, and in 1913 two of them, Stanton MacdonaldWright and Morgan Russell, created a movement called synchromism, which applied methods of musical composition to painting by using a color wheel. It was the only school of modern painting up to that time founded by Americans.

St. Louis–born poet T. S. Eliot made his home in London after 1914. By the 1920s artists including Man Ray and Thomas Hart Benton and musicians George Gershwin and Virgil Thompson were living in Europe for extended periods. The flow of writers accelerated greatly as politically committed writers came to Europe to assist the British in World War I, and others, who had been too young for military service, arrived once the war ended.

Many gravitated to the salon led by Gertrude Stein, who coined the phrase the lost generation to describe them. This was a generation disgusted with U.S. materialism and prudery, including Prohibition; they included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, Djuna Barnes, and Thornton Wilder.

Expatriates even had a meeting place in Paris at Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore run by the American Sylvia Beach. The literary critic Malcolm Cowley described expatriation during the 1920s as a rite of passage based on the idea that "the creative artist is ... independent of all localities, nations and classes."

African Americans particularly found Europe to be a refuge from racial discrimination. Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullen lived in Europe during the 1920s, as did dancer Josephine Baker. Many expatriates were forced home by the Great Depression; scandalous writer Henry Miller was an exception, spending the decade in France.

After World War II writers continued to expatriate. African Americans Richard Wright and James Baldwin traveled to avoid continuing bigotry; others such as Irwin Shaw, William Styron, and several beat writers left to avoid the excesses of the U.S. Red Scare.

Writers, trying like many other Americans to avoid the military draft, sat out the Vietnam War in Canada and Europe. Now, as historian Michel Fabre notes, expatriation has come to refer to "living abroad" and has none of the characteristics of exile.