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Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections

 

"Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections," a special exhibition organized by the Amon Carter Museum that brings together 59 American masterpieces drawn from private, public and corporate collections throughout the state of Texas, opened September 14, 2002 at the Carter and runs through November 17, 2002. It is accompanied by a 146-page catalogue that features an introductory essay on the history of fine art collecting in Texas.

This group of paintings, sculptures, watercolors and photographs celebrates the achievements of those collectors in Texas whose holdings reflect the essential nature of our country's character. From a pair of 18th-century portraits by John Singleton Copley to important works by great American artists such as Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, David Smith, Alfred Stieglitz and Garry Winogrand, the variety of the objects in the exhibition speaks to the regional, cultural and ethnic diversity of America.

"Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections" is informed by the Carter's own collecting philosophy. The museum was founded in 1961 to house Amon G. Carter's (1879-1955) collection of 400 works by the two greatest artists of the American West, Frederic Remington (1861-1909) and Charles M. Russell (1864-1926). Since then, the museum has broadened its collecting perspective, seeking out the finest examples of American art and building a collection of masterworks that emphasizes key moments in American art and culture. A majority of the artists whose works are in the exhibition are also represented in the Carter's collection, which offers visitors a rare opportunity to compare an artist's work from different career periods.

"By bringing together outstanding works by artists in all media, this exhibition celebrates the philosophy of quality that has governed the Carter's collecting activities since its inception," says Amon Carter Museum Director Rick Stewart. "And perhaps most importantly, this exhibition celebrates the public and private collections in the state of Texas, where the study and appreciation of American art have flourished for more than a century."

"The depth and caliber of American art located in Texas art collections, as well as the strength and cohesiveness of these collections, was surprising," adds Chief Curator Jane Myers, whose research for the exhibition began in 1998. "There have been a great number of outstanding collections assembled in Texas since the turn of the 20th century, when the citizens who populated the state's burgeoning communities began a series of earnest campaigns to bring art to the prairies."

One among many of this exhibition's achievements is the reunion of the portraits of Sarah and Jabez Bowen. In the early 1770s, John Singleton Copley (1738 1815) painted the portraits of these two distinguished citizens. The couple maintained influential social, political, and educational ties to their native Rhode Island, and their portraits remained together for over 200 years, including a period of extended loan to the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. In the early 1980s, however, the two paintings were sold separately through Kennedy Galleries of New York and made their way to Texas, where they reside in private collections 600 miles apart.

It was during her research for "Celebrating America" that Jane Myers, cocurator of the exhibition, discovered that both portraits were located in the state. "We were pleasantly surprised when we learned of this fortuitous coincidence, and we are delighted to have an opportunity to reunite this distinguished couple," Myers says.

Little could the Bowens have imagined, while sitting for the renowned Boston portraitist, that their countenances would someday come to rest in a region that during their lifetimes was a Spanish colony where the Native American and Hispanic populations maintained an uneasy balance with each other. Life was scarcely more settled for the Bowens back in New England, for their prominent positions led to deep involvement in the political upheavals that would lead to the American Revolution.

When "Celebrating America" opened September 14, visitors could see the Bowens together in the Carter's new galleries for the first time in nearly 20 years. Each of the other masterworks brought together for this special exhibition carries with it a similarly fascinating story, not only of the cultural history embodied in the work itself, but in many cases the record of how the work came to reside in this state.

Of the 59 objects assembled for "Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections," 47 of the artists are also represented in the Amon Carter Museum's permanent collection. The Carter is known to hold one of the finest collections of American art in the country, and the parallels between its holdings and the works in this special exhibition attest to the depth and quality of American art that lives in collections around the state.

Two paintings by Marsden Hartley provide an example of the comparisons that can be made between the works in "Celebrating America" and the Carter's collection. "American Indian Symbols," owned by the Carter, and "Portrait Arrangement" (McNay Art Museum in San Antonio), were both executed in 1914, a pivotal and productive year for Hartley, who was then living in Berlin. The Fort Worth picture reflects Hartley's American identity, expressed through references to Native Americans whose cultural heritage could be seen in Berlin's extensive ethnographic collections. However, with the advent of World War I, Hartley's work shifted to the imagery evident in "Portrait Arrangement," a tribute to the death of a mounted German soldier.

Extensive comparisons can be made between Fitz Hugh Lane's "Sunset at Gloucester Harbor" (1858), loaned from a private collection, and Lane's painting from two years earlier, "Boston Harbor" (1856), which is in the Carter's collection. Together, the two works dramatically convey Lane's increasingly sophisticated technique.

"Despite the relatively short period of time that separates these two works, 'Sunset at Gloucester Harbor,' which is slightly larger than the Carter's earlier landscape, reveals the full maturation of the artist's style," says Jane Myers, the exhibition cocurator. "The painting displays a remarkable, spare beauty resulting from the artist's simplification of detail and his increasing fascination with the spectacular atmospheric effects of twilight, the time of day when sunlight takes its most magical form."

An examination of Dennis Miller Bunker's "Portrait of Kenneth Cranford" (1884), on loan from the collection of Graham D. Williford, and the Carter's "In the Greenhouse," which Bunker painted in 1888, provides a remarkable confirmation of the scope and promise of this talented artist who died prematurely at the age of 29.

"The Norther," a rare Frederic Remington bronze cast in 1900, offers an intimate look at one of the few Remington bronzes not represented in the Carter's nearly complete set of casts. Only three casts were made of "The Norther," a gripping depiction of man on horseback suffering from the ravages of bitter cold and wind.

"Remington painted on the surface of the model for this work with a brush dipped in molten wax," Myers said, "thereby creating a lively surface which, with its variegated color and mixture of reflective surfaces, shimmers and scatters the light that strikes it."

Two Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, "Open Clam Shell" (1926) and "Closed Clam Shell" (1926), are on loan to "Celebrating America" from a private collection. They wonderfully complement the Carter's O'Keeffe paintings, which begin chronologically with her 1918 work "Series I - No. 1" and end with "Black Patio Door," painted in 1955. Like "Red Cannas," one of the Carter's paintings by O'Keeffe painted in 1927, the "clam shell" paintings evoke the intense sensuality that characterized the artist's focus on natural materials, such as flowers and shells.

"O'Keeffe executed the "clam shell" paintings during a trip to Maine, where she had traveled in search of solitude and freedom from the New York art critics, who at the time were fixated on the erotic content of her work, at the expense, she felt, of her works' unique formal properties," Myers said.

In another example, a comparison can be made of two genre pictures dating to the early 1880s by Thomas Hovenden and Helen Corson-the former in the Carter's collection, the latter owned by Wells Fargo. Such comparison provides insight into this husband and wife's sympathetic working environment in their Pennsylvania studio where, with restrained sensitivity, they explored the African-American way of life during the post-Civil War period.

"Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections" also commemorates the inaugural year of the Carter's expansion, which increased to nearly 30,000 square feet the gallery space in which to showcase the museum's collections and special exhibitions of American art. Visitors are now able to view four times the number of artworks that were on display in the pre-expansion building.

This exhibition is organized by the Amon Carter Museum

rev. 2/5/03

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