Editor's note: The Virginia Historical Society provided source material to Resource Library for the following article or essay. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the Virginia Historical Society directly through either this phone number or web address:
Pierre Daura's Vision of Virginia
September 16, 2006 - January 14, 2007
(above: Pierre Daura, 1960s, Photograph: Robert Munger, Daura Archives)
A new exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) provides an opportunity to see Pierre Daura's paintings of Virginia. Pierre Daura's Vision of Virginia features eighty-five works presented in three galleries. Focus is given to Daura's paintings of the landscapes of Rockbridge County and his depictions of the people there and in Lynchburg, where he taught art for many years at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. The artist's European career is also surveyed, so that the viewer who is unfamiliar with Daura will be able to understand how he incorporated the dynamics of European modernism to invigorate his canvases.
"Daura was never overly concerned with making a profit off his paintings," said Dr. William M. S. Rasmussen, Lora Robins Curator of Art and curator of this exhibition. "As a result, the vast majority of Daura's Virginia works are in the hands of private owners-the Virginians he knew and painted in Rockbridge Baths and Lynchburg. With his daughter Martha's help, the VHS has received a number of the paintings and identified private owners to secure loans for this showing. It is a unique opportunity to see a more complete body of Daura's Virginia work."
Daura was a Spanish-born painter who in 1927 met Richmond art student Louise Blair in Paris. They married the next year and in 1939, at the outbreak of World War II, relocated to the Blair summer homestead in Rockbridge County. Daura and his wife had been living in St. Cirq-Lapopie in the south of France. This small, medieval town was a great source of inspiration for Daura's work.
Daura, pained by the rise of fascism in his native Spain, returned to fight Franco. Wounded and sent back to France to recover, he lost his Spanish citizenship when Franco declared victory in 1939. Five months later, Hitler invaded Poland and thus began the Second World War. The Dauras, who were already in Virginia visiting Louise's family, stayed in Virginia throughout the duration of the war, and Pierre, and his daughter Martha became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1943.
Although Daura continued to paint, his experiences in the Spanish Civil War had a deep impact on him. The artist said, "I can't imagine that the brush in my hand [once] painted the soft and curved lines of a landscape, because today it only wants to paint the rough and straight lines of war, blood, and destruction."
But Daura found serenity living among the mountains and people of Rockbridge Baths and peaceful, religious themes began to appear in his art. The Dauras found a welcoming environment among the people and landscapes of Virginia. He taught at Randolph-Macon Woman's College and Lynchburg College. The Honorable Elliot S. Schewel, former trustee of the VHS, had the pleasure of not only knowing but also painting with the artist. "I took painting classes from a local artist who was friends with Daura. He would come to her classes to offer criticism and suggestions. I had the good fortune to benefit from his instruction," said Schewel. "We eventually became good friends. He and Louise were such wonderful people. Pierre was a warm spirit-his eyes always sparkled when he talked and he had a great sense of humor. Once while visiting the Dauras, my son fell and skinned his knee. He was crying and carrying on, and Pierre, in an effort to appease him, went over to the wall and took down a painting and gave it to my son. We still have that painting." The Schewels have two paintings on loan to the VHS for the exhibition.
Throughout the fifties, the Dauras split their time annually between Rockbridge Baths and St. Cirq. "At some point during these years," Rasmussen notes, "Daura's paintings took on a new goal, to rekindle the worship of nature, an attitude that had been largely forgotten in America since the nineteenth century." The artist said, "I do not believe we should neglect anything to inspire men with the love of their native soil."
Daura was a significant artist in late-1920s Paris. The genesis of his influences comes from an early apprenticeship with painter and art theorist Émile Bernard, who in turn exposed Daura to the philosophies and theories of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne. Daura counted among his friends the painter Joaquín Torres-García and was taught by José Ruiz Blasco, Pablo Picasso's father. While in Paris, he joined Michel Seuphor and Torres-García to organize Cercle et Carré, a group of artists who called themselves "Constructivists." Delving into the world of art theory and near-abstraction with so many strong personalities helped Daura to create his own style-a free and joyful expression with heavy use of light and color. Daura's paintings are on display through January 14, 2007, and educational programming includes a gallery walk with Dr. Rasmussen at noon on Wednesday, September 20, 2006.
The exhibition will travel to Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia, February to March 2007.
Foreword to the exhibition catalogue
Pierre Daura was arguably the greatest artist active in Virginia in the twentieth century. Certainly a more famous painter is his student Cy Twombly, who grew up in Lexington and as a teenager in the 1940s turned for guidance to the accomplished Spanish emigrant who only recently had settled nearby in Rockbridge Baths. Twombly's abstract paintings now sell for the highest prices to the leading art museums throughout the world. But Twombly lives primarily in Italy, where for decades he has drawn his inspiration. Daura's emigration was the reverse. As a young man he left his native Spain to travel to Paris, the artistic Mecca of the early years of the century. There, immersed in the mainstream of modern painting, he absorbed influences that would make his canvases resonate with vitality. On the eve of World War II, Daura and his Richmond-born wife, Louise Blair, relocated to Virginia. Although they would return for extended visits to their first home, the French village of St. Cirq, the Dauras spent most of the next three decades in Virginia. Pierre painted the landscape and people of Rockbridge County and of Lynchburg, where for years he taught at Lynchburg College and at Randolph-Macon Woman's College.
In Virginia, Pierre Daura was prolific. He produced hundreds of canvases, watercolors, drawings, and sculptures that are remarkably high in quality. To those of us who know the terrain that he painted, the scenes of Rockbridge County are a special treat to view. They allow us to look at the world through eyes that knew, better than most, how to savor its beauty. With these scenes, Daura makes us feel privileged to live in Virginia.
Pierre Daura never cared much about selling his work or achieving the notoriety that would have followed a marketing campaign launched by a New York or Paris art dealer. He did not engage an agent to push his name or his canvases. He exhibited at Virginia colleges after World War II, but the taste-setters in New York, who focused then on abstraction, knew and cared little about his accomplishment of adapting to traditional subject matter the modernist's understanding of composition and color. Consequently, Daura's vast body of Virginia work accumulated in Rockbridge Baths, known to few beyond his friends, to whom he gave a number of the works. Following his death in 1976, Daura's daughter Martha took on the Herculean task of cataloging her father's vast body of work and devising a plan to disperse it to museums throughout Europe and America. The Virginia Historical Society became one of some forty-five institutions that became recipients, receiving in 2001 a gift of twenty-seven of the paintings and drawings. At that time our curator, Dr. William M. S. Rasmussen, talked with Martha about putting together an exhibition that would bring together for the first time the Virginia works and would showcase them. Included in the show would be a large sampling of the many paintings that still remain in private hands. The show's catalog would serve as permanent documentation should any of those works ever be lost.
I want to give special thanks to Martha Daura and her husband Tom Mapp, who have worked with Bill Rasmussen in a labor of love to make possible this exhibition and catalog. I also thank Pam Simpson and Peter Grover at Washington and Lee University, for supporting the show and arranging for it to travel there following its Richmond opening. In Lexington, imagery of the Valley will be reunited with those residents of the state who know it best.
Checklist for the exhibition
(above: Red Barns and Jump Mountain [Rockbridge Baths], 194555, Watercolor on paper. Virginia Historical Society. In Rockbridge Baths, Pierre Daura turned to the landscape with enthusiasm. He wrote, "this village . . . produced on me the impression of a very wild nearly savage country, grandiose like nothing I had ever known, like nothing I had ever seen. Yet in some places, when I came to forget that I was in America, in Virginia, I couldn't help but think of some places in the Lot [valley], in France, in St. Cirq, some places in Catalonia, Montsegur, the Pyrenees. . ." )
(above: Shack, Jump Mountain [Rockbridge Baths], 193950, Oil on beaverboard. Virginia Historical Society)
(above: Shed and Hogback Mountain [Rockbridge Baths], 1941, Tempera on paper. Virginia Historical Society)
(above: Autumn Fields [Rockbridge Baths], 194555, Watercolor on paper. Virginia Historical Society)
(above: Mohler Barn [Rockbridge Baths], 195570, Watercolor. Virginia Historical Society)
(above: Woodland [Rockbridge Baths], 194555, Watercolor on paper. Virginia Historical Society)
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Virginia Historical Society in Resource Library.
Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.
Copyright 2006 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.