On Thursday of last week I worked with my installation crew to hang a painting and two related drawings by Alexander Hogue, a Texas artist who during the 1930s earned a national reputation for his depictions of the Dust Bowl. Completed in 1934, Drouth Stricken Area is arguably Hogue’s masterpiece from this period. His approach is not documentary, but rather surrealist, producing a haunting, nearly airless view of a Texas farm wrecked by drought and erosion; an emaciated cow stands helplessly in front of the dust-filled water trough, his death eminent.
Alexandre Hogue (1898–1994), Drouth Stricken Area, 1934, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase
Hogue’s painting served as a warning of the dangers of poor land use fueled by greed. As he said at the time, “That is what the landscape will be if they don’t let the government do its work.” Aside from the particular social circumstances of the Depression era, Hogue’s portrayal of the devastated Dust Bowl landscape touches on a theme that artists in the American tradition have long pursued. The environment –a passing storm, a vibrant sunset, a verdant wheat field—serve as emblems of larger social circumstances. Nature and its changeable state tell a story about human fears and aspirations. When you next visit the Amon Carter, take time to look at Hogue’s painting and then compare it to Martin Johnson Heade’s Thunderstorm on Narragansett Bay (1868).
Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay, 1868, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Drouth Stricken Area is in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art, and we are grateful to have it on view; it offers our visitors the opportunity to see a masterful work by this artist as well as for the Amon Carter to be a part of a collaborative venture within Fort Worth’s Cultural District. Down the street, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is hosting a retrospective of Hogue’s work. Though he is best known for his surreal meditations on drought and erosion during the Dust Bowl era, Hogue continued to paint until his death in 1998. Walking through the exhibition, I found myself face to face with an artist of prodigious talent constantly experimenting with style and subject matter, though always coming back to the landscape of his immediate world. His late series of large scale paintings of the Big Bend are fierce and beautiful simultaneously, and they are on view down the street in their entirety for the first time.
Working together, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History have created a unique opportunity to not only see the full scope of Hogue’s significant achievement, but also to understand his work as part of the long tradition of American landscape painting. Be sure to visit both museums this fall. You will not be disappointed.