From the Private Collections of Texas: European Art, Ancient to Modern
Kimbell Art Museum
November 22, 2009 – March 21, 2010
From the Private Collections of Texas: European Art, Ancient to Modern, opening at the Kimbell Art Museum on November 22, 2009, surveys the history of private art collecting in Texas from the oil boom days of Spindletop to the present day. The exhibition tells the stories of the men and women in the state who have collected European paintings and sculpture at the highest level. Many of the resulting collections might seem more at home in Paris, France, than Houston, Texas, or on an English country estate than a West Texas cattle ranch. The exhibition draws from the very best of these collections and totals over 100 works. Reflecting the Kimbell’s own collecting areas, the exhibition will focus on the art of Europe and the ancient Mediterranean from around 700 b.c. to the 1940s. More than 40 collectors will be represented, and among the artists to be featured are Guido Reni, Guercino, Rembrandt van Rijn, Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Piet Mondrian.
Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum, commented, “It will be a rare treat to see so many important works from private Texas collections. We are truly grateful to all of the exhibition lenders for generously agreeing to display these treasures —many of which have never been shown publicly—at the Museum.”
Roughly half the works in the exhibition currently hang in private residences, unknown to the public and little known even to specialists. One important “rediscovery” is a sparkling landscape on copper by Paul Bril, a Flemish artist who worked in Rome around 1600. The other half of the exhibition is comprised of works that were collected privately in Texas and later donated to museums. These works are much better known, although they are rarely contemplated in the context of private collecting. Who brought them to Texas, and how did this person originally display them? The exhibition (along with the accompanying catalogue) will lift a curtain on private artistic enthusiasms, and, through historic photographs, show how collectors have lived with their treasured art possessions.
In Texas, as elsewhere, collectors come in many different stripes. The Menils were highly eclectic in their tastes and acquired works of art in considerable depth in many different fields—from old master and early modern to Surrealist and African art. They felt no obligation to conform to traditional patterns of collecting and found that Texas (and especially Houston) offered a conducive atmosphere to be bold and experimental. The majority of collectors in the state have preferred a more focused path. Michael L. Rosenberg of Dallas bought only 18th-century French painting, such as his glorious Bather by François Lemoyne. The collector of the most important Renoir in the state, A Woman Combing Her Hair, prefers French painting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A more unexpected example is the Barrett Collection of Dallas, which is the most important collection of Swiss painting outside of Switzerland. All the major masters of the early 20th century are represented, including Ferdinand Hodler, three of whose paintings are in the exhibition. Another perhaps surprising area of concentration in Texas is the work of Piet Mondrian. The exhibition features six of his paintings, three formerly in the collection of James H. and Lillian Clark of Dallas.
The Clarks introduce a crucial subtheme of the exhibition: Texans not only collect ambitiously, but also give ambitiously. The Clarks made regular gifts of art to the Dallas Museum of Art during their lives, and the DMA remains indebted to them for its strong holdings in early 20th-century abstract art. To go from museum to museum in the state is to find many other collector-donors like the Clarks. In some remarkable cases their philanthropic ambitions and discernment as collectors yielded world-class museums bearing their names. Thus Kay and Velma Kimbell of the Kimbell; John and Dominque de Menil of the Menil Collection in Houston; Raymond and Patsy Nasher of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas; and Marion Koogler McNay of the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio. The exhibition will pay tribute to these collectors by displaying representative selections from their original collections.
The exhibition is co-curated by Richard R. Brettell, the Margaret McDermott Distinguished Chair of Art and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas, and C. D. Dickerson, associate curator of European art at the Kimbell. The catalogue will feature an essay by Professor Brettell on collecting in Texas, as well as scholarly entries on all the works included. It is the first comprehensive survey of the history of private art collecting in Texas. It will be available in the Kimbell Museum Shop or online at www.kimbellart.org, and will be distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.