A National Image: The American Painting And Sculpture Collection in the San Antonio Museum of Art

by Lisa Reitzes, Stephanie Street, and Gerry D.Scott, III with the assistance of Shelby Wells



Thanks to the generosity of the Robert J. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, three more important American paintings came to the San Antonio Museum of Art in the 1980s. Martin Johnson Heade's atmospheric Passion Flowers with Three Hummingbirds entered the collection in 1982, followed by Albert Bierstadt's Passing Storm over the Sierra Nevadas in 1985, and Winslow Homer's graceful watercolor Boy Fishing in 1986 (Cat. Nos. 29, 24, and 41).

The last-named work, Homer's lyrical Boy Fishing, has recently been accorded significant attention, from inclusion in recent scholarly works and exhibition catalogues to a request to display a copy of the painting in a popular television series.[8] Homer was himself a passionate fisherman, and he joined the North Woods Club, a private hunting and fishing preserve on Mink Pond near Minerva, New York in 1886 to indulge that passion. In his Boy Fishing, he effectively captures both the stillness of the mountain lake and the thrill of the catch. He has, at once, recorded a serene, yet exciting, moment.

During the 1990s, the San Antonio Museum of Art's American collection continued to expand, this time to fill in areas previously lacking or underrepresented in the collection. One such area was still-life painting, and the Museum was fortunate to add two fine examples, Severin Roesen's Still Life with Fruit and Sliced Lemon in 1991 and Charles Ethan Porter's Still Life in 1996 (Cat. Nos. 28, 30). The acquisition of the Porter not only helped increase the scope of San Antonio's still-life paintings, it also reflected the Museum's interest in collecting the work of African-American artists. Once again the interest and passion of the Museum's Trustees benefited the institution. Trustee Harriet Kelley and her husband, Dr. Harmon Kelley, are significant collectors of African-American art.[9] With their help and guidance, the Museum added several important African-American works to the collection, including Edward Mitchell Bannister's oil painting After the Bath (Cat. No. 40, the gift of Dr. Harmon and Harriet Kelley in 1994), Jacob Lawrence's casein on paper Bar 'n Grill (Cat. No. 66, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Halff, Dr. and Mrs. Harmon Kelley, and Dr. Leo Edwards in 1995), and Richmond Barthe's bronze sculpture Birth of the Spirituals (Cat. No. 69, purchased with funds provided by the Lillie and Roy Cullen Endowment Fund in 1996).

As the San Antonio Museum of Art moves into the new millennium, it also is moving to share its American art holdings with a larger and wider audience. Thanks to the generous grant received from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Museum is publishing, herewith, the first catalogue of its American art collection. Many of its works have been featured recently in a wide range of exhibitions organized by other prominent American museums that have such diverse themes as the career of Winslow Homer as both artist and sportfisherman and a celebration of important American art in Texas collections.[10] Finally, as this catalogue goes to press, the San Antonio Museum of Art is represented in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. At the request of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, the San Antonio Museum of Art has lent its Robert Julian Onderdonk painting Near San Antonio (Cat. No. 54) to the White House so that the President and First Lady may be reminded of the beauty and grandeur of the Texas landscape.



1. The grand opening of the Witte Memorial Museum was on the night of October 8, 1926. For an informative, but idiosyncratic, history of the establishment and early years of the Witte Museum, see Bess Carroll Woolford and Ellen Schulz Quillin, The Story of the Witte Memorial Museum, 1922-1960 (San Antonio, TX, 1966).

2. An account of the history of the original Lone Star Brewing Company complex and its conversion to an art museum may be found in Ten Years, pp. 5-7, but see also pp. 1-3.

3. Betty Jameson, "Museum Receives Early American Paintings," San Antonio Light, February 4, 1945.

4. See Monroe H. Fabian, Mr. Sully, Portrait Painter (Washington, D.C., 1983), p. 114. ,

5. See Valerie Ann Leeds, My People: The Portraits of Robert Henri (Seattle and London, 1994), pp. 27, 44, n. 51.

6. Yale University Art Gallery, acc. no. RR2001.5181.1.

7. See H. Barbara Weinberg, The Lure of Paris, Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers, New York and London, p. 210 and pl. 223.

8. For recent publications of Boy Fishing. see the bibliography of Cat. No. 41. The television series that has a modern copy of the work as set decoration is Law and Order.

9. For this collection, see Kelley Collection.

10. Casting a Spell, Winslow Homer: Artist and Angler, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, December 7, 2002 - February 9, 2003, and Amon Carter Museum, April 12 - June 22, 2003, Rich Stewart et al., Celebrating America: Masterworks from Texas Collections (Fort Worth, TX, 2002).


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