The Hidden History of Paintings

On Friday, October 21, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art announced a major new acquisition: Mary Cassatt’s Woman Standing, Holding a Fan. Completed in 1879, Cassatt made this painting at a critical point in her career. As a young artist living in Paris, she met and began working with the incomparable Edgar Degas. Their relationship was dynamic, and they worked together nearly every day during this period. Degas challenged Cassatt to experiment with new techniques and subject matter as they both explored their identities as modern artists; he would invite her to exhibit with the Impressionists the very year that our new work was completed.

A painting, however, is never frozen in time; it moves from the artist’s easel through a circuitous path of environments and communities. A work of art’s provenance, or history of ownership, can be fascinating and provides a window into an artist’s evolving reputation, as well as into the history of taste. Charting provenance requires a detective’s mind, finding clues wherever possible. Often times such a clue comes from the back of the painting, where inscriptions or labels on the canvas’ stretcher are traces of its passage through time and space. Such is the case with the museum’s new Cassatt. Written on the stretcher, in bold, black letters, are a single word and a number: VOLLARD 5165.

Vollard Signature Detail

The name references Ambrose Vollard, the Parisian dealer who Cassatt met around 1896. Vollard’s aggressive promotion of modern art attracted Cassatt to his gallery, and by 1904 he was buying work from the artist to present to his clientele. The inscription is the dealer’s inventory number, indicating that sometime after 1904, Vollard purchased Woman Standing, Holding a Fan for his gallery’s stock.

As objects, works of art have many stories to tell, both in what they represent on the canvas and in what might be hidden behind. Woman Standing, Holding a Fan is on view in our gallery, so be sure to visit soon to see our latest addition.

New Cassatt Painting on View

Today a new masterpiece is hanging in our galleries—Woman Standing, Holding a Fan by Mary Cassatt. The work, created in 1878–79, is one of only two known canvases painted by the artist almost entirely in the medium of distemper and represents a key moment in her transformation into an Impressionist.

Read more about the work in today's New York Times and the Star-Telegram. And, be sure to see this beautiful painting in person.


Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)
Woman Standing, Holding a Fan, 1878–79
Distemper with metallic paint on canvas
Acquisition in honor of Ruth Carter Stevenson and the 50th Anniversary of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art with funds provided by Anne T. and Robert M. Bass, The Walton Family Foundation, and the Council of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas

ACMAA: Both a Museum and a Research Destination

Last week while preparing a brief lecture, I was reminded of my first introduction to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. In 1987, Doreen Bolger (then curator at the ACMAA and now director of the Baltimore Museum of Art) hired me to be a Philadelphia-based research assistant on an exhibition exploring the work of the American artist William Michael Harnett. Though I never made it to Fort Worth to see the beautiful paintings by Harnett in this museum’s collection, for more than a year I scoured the records in Philadelphia libraries and historical societies searching for information on the patrons who commissioned works from the nineteenth-century trompe l’oeil artist. As rigorous research will, mine on Harnett uncovered networks—relationships between the artist and his patrons that showed how Harnett’s realistic still lifes of “old things” captivated a new group of professionals at the center of the country’s modernization: the media, manufacturing, and retail shopping.

What impressed me at the time was how serious the Amon Carter’s leadership was about research. They clearly understood that when an exhibition project advances knowledge, related historical research makes the art all the more relevant to visitors’ own lives. The museum’s painting by Harnett, Ease (1887), benefited from my archival digging. I discovered that the original owner, James Abbe, belonged to that network of patrons transforming the modern American world. Abbe, a paper manufacturer and newspaper publisher in Massachusetts, ordered the work from Harnett. At the center of the composition filled with Abbe’s personal bric-a-brac and books, a newspaper rests on a tabletop where a burning cigar has been set, as though Abbe has just left the room and will return shortly.

Harnett's Ease

William M. Harnett (1848–1892), Ease, 1887, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1972.2

Understanding how works of art gained meaning in their own day—how they were part of social networks—requires committed study; this is what I learned as an employee of the ACMAA more than twenty-years ago. The Amon Carter Museum of American Art has been committed to such study for all of its history. We are known as an art museum filled with masterworks, but we are also a known research destination for the city, the region, and the nation. Come to the museum to see a work like Harnett’s Ease, then visit our research library and archives to mine the riches of life.

Collaboration in the Cultural District

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.

Drouth Stricken Area

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).

Thunder Storm on Narragansett Bay

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.

New Loan on View

This week our Cultural District neighbor, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History (FWMSH), opens a retrospective on American artist Alexandre Hogue (1898–1994). The exhibition, Alexandre Hogue: An American Visionary–Paintings and Works on Paper, includes more than 150 oil paintings, drawings and field sketches, primarily of Southwest landscapes. The exhibition is organized by the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi.

In collaboration, the Amon Carter is exhibiting one of Hogue’s major oil paintings, Drouth Stricken Area (1934), and two related drawings, on loan from the Dallas Museum of Art.

Both are on view from September 24 through November 27. Admission to the Amon Carter is free. For the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History’s exhibition ticket information, visit or call 817.255.9540.

Make plans to visit the Cultural District this fall!

Updated September 28: The FWMSH presents a free program on Saturday, October 1 at 2 p.m. at the Amon Carter. Olivier Meslay, Interim Director at the Dallas Museum of Art, will speak about Alexandre Hogue and American Art in France. Click here for details.

Drought Stricken Area

Alexandre Hogue (1898–1994)
Drouth Stricken Area, 1934
Oil on canvas
Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase

Photo Contest Winners

We happily received nearly 100 entries in our recent photo contest, and TCU Professor of Art Photography Luther Smith selected the winning photos. The first-place winners in each age category are posted below. Check out the museum's Facebook page to see all the winning entries. Thanks for participating!

Cate Gillham, age category: 12 and under, first place

Barrett Cole, age category: 13 to 18, first place

Julia Guzman-Henderson, age category: 19 and over, first place

We Remember

On the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I spent part of my day at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History viewing a three-story panel from the 101st to the 103rd floors of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. The FWMSH holds this artifact as a permanent part of its collection now, a remnant from a still present tragedy and a constant reminder that carried me to memories of that day, the lives lost, and the wars that followed. It also made me think of how an object has the power to transport you out of the routine of the everyday to one of reflection and insight. At over thirty-six feet tall and six feet wide, this steel façade enveloped me into the scale of the tragedy.

Mayor looking at artifact

Standing there made me think of a series of works of art that has preoccupied me of late and that references another tragedy in our nation’s history. In 1968, the artist Leonard Baskin was commissioned by the National Park Service to illustrate a commemorative volume for the Custer Battlefield National Monument. At that time, the Battle of the Little Big Horn (June 25, 1876) stood as the most memorialized human tragedy in American history. But unlike artists before him, Baskin chose not to focus on the “reality” of the military battle, but rather on the human tragedy wrought in the faces of Indians and the officers in a series of moving portraits. As then director of the Amon Carter, Mitch Wilder observed, “We see man's mortality, brutality, and futility. And yet we read in the faces of Baskin's people the basic humanity which ties us together in a tragic climax no one seems to comprehend.”

Wilder’s words could just as easily apply to the World Trade Center artifact; works of art or historic artifacts have the power to touch our basic humanity even when beyond comprehension. One of the watercolor-and-ink drawings that Baskin made for the commission, An Oglala Sioux, is currently on view in the exhibition at our museum The Allure of Paper.

Leonard Baskin's An Oglala Sioux

Above: Leonard Baskin, An Oglala Sioux, 1971. © The Estate of Leonard Baskin; Courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York

This is my first blog post as director of the Amon Carter. I hope you’ll check in and let me know your thoughts as I share mine with you; I’ll be posting every other Tuesday.

Things We Did at the Museum This Summer

We listened to lots of stories...

Storytime visitors listened to 28 stories.jpg

Storytime visitors heard stories connected to 24 works of art in the museum this summer.

We had over 1800 Storytime visitors!.jpg

We had over 1800 Storytime visitors!

Congratulations to Isabella our Storytime Grand Prize Winner.jpg

Congratulations to Isabella, our Storytime Grand Prize winner! She won a copy of all 24 books read during Storytime.

We told our own stories...

Sharing the Past visitors from Bethesda Gardens at the Amon Carter_0.jpg

Residents from Bethesda Gardens enjoyed our Sharing the Past program on the second Thursday of each month. We have been known to sing and tell jokes too!

We were inspired by the Amon Carter’s collection to create our own art…

Crafting from the Collection program inspires creative thinking.jpg

Our program Crafting from the Collection program inspired creative thinkers.

Family programs offer lots of chances to make art.jpg

All of our family programs offered lots of chances to make art.

And to teach others to share new ideas…

Over 700 teachers developed techniques for using art as primary sources this summer.jpg

Over 700 teachers developed techniques for using art as a primary source this summer.

And to top it all off, we had a BIG PARTY!

Over 4500 of our good friends joined us for 50Fest, our 50th Anniversary Celebration.jpg

Over 4500 of our good friends joined us for 50Fest, our 50th Anniversary celebration!

There were cakes for voting on.jpg

There were cakes to vote for…

And cake for eating.jpg

…and cake for eating…

And hotdogs too.jpg

…and hot dogs too.

Dancing at 50Fest.jpg

We did some dancing...

Hula-hooping and bubble-blowing at 50Fest.jpg

…we hula hooped and blew bubbles…

We had fun with art.jpg

We had fun looking at art…

Making art at 50Fest.jpg

…and making our own art.

Brady Sloan-our tireless Public Programs Manager-makes everyone feel welcome at the Amon Carter.jpg

Brady Sloane, our tireless Public Programs Manager, made everyone feel welcome at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.

The Allure of Paper: Conservation

As the paper conservator at the Amon Carter, I oversee the collection of works on paper---totaling nearly 10,000. Part of my job is to ensure that the works of art to be included in a show like The Allure of Paper are stable enough to be placed on exhibit. Once I receive the list of works the curator would like to include in a show, I spring into action. I examine each object closely, looking for problems like flaking paint, weak or torn hinges, tears, or any other problem that would make the piece unsafe to display.

For The Allure of Paper a few works needed conservation treatment: Edward Hopper’s untitled charcoal drawing, John Henry Hill’s small watercolor sketch Nevada Falls, John Abbot’s Cardinal Grosbeak, and Arthur Davies' Certosa Monastery. Most had minor issues that needed to be addressed before they could safely hang in the galleries for four months.

Conservator looking through microscope in the lab.
Using magnification enables me to examine a work closely, as well as make very subtle repairs.

Edward Hopper’s charcoal drawing had several small edge tears and creases, making it vulnerable to further damage. Because the drawing was executed on poor quality paper (newsprint), over time the paper had darkened. Its condition required that light levels be kept low, and it remains covered during non-public hours.

Edward Hopper's charcoal on paper Untitled (Captain Gardner K. Wonson House)
Edward Hopper (1882--1967), Untitled (Captain Gardner K. Wonson House), ca. 1923--28, charcoal on paper, 2004.31

Documentation photographs are taken before and after conservation treatment. Above is the before treatment photograph.

After examining the object, I write up a treatment proposal that the curator and I agree upon. For this piece I repaired the tears with wheat starch paste and thin Japanese paper strips. The repairs secure the tears, stopping them from getting larger.

Condition report for Edward Hopper's charcoal on paper
Treatment proposal for Edward Hopper’s charcoal drawing

Once I’m finished with treatment I write up a report detailing what I’ve done and what materials I used. Each object in our collection has a dedicated file where documentation is kept detailing its history.

In addition, for every piece on the exhibition list I make note of its exhibition history. Works of art on paper are vulnerable to overexposure to light and environmental conditions. To protect the art we limit the lifetime exhibition of a work on paper, keeping it off view in our vaults for years between shows to slow down its inevitable deterioration. We also limit the light levels used in the exhibition. Some works are so vulnerable that for the duration of the show we cover them with custom-fitted drapes to protect them when we are closed to the public.

Conservator lifting cover over Georgia O'Keeffe watercolor.
Georgia O’Keeffe's Light Coming on the Plains No. III (1917) is covered by its custom-fitted drape during non-public hours.

Post written by Jodie Utter, conservator of works on paper

Amon Carter: The First 50 years

Check out our new video exploring the first fifty years of the museum's history. We hope that you will come by to be a part of our next fifty years!