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Merry and Bright

Did you know that tomorrow, December 22, is the anniversary of Christmas tree lights? The bright sparkles of string lights that today adorn trees and houses alike got their start in 1882 when Edward Johnson, who worked for Thomas Edison’s Illumination Company, first tried stringing together small electric bulbs on a single power cord. Though string lights did not enjoy immediate popularity, today they hold a special place in the hearts of many during the holiday season.

Whether your holiday season is brightened by friends and family, your very own illuminated Christmas tree, the Festival of Lights, or all three, we here at the Amon Carter wish you a holiday that is merry and bright.

Gast House Christmas Tree

Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), Gast House, Christmas Tree [Colorado], 1929, gelatin silver print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist

Holiday Travels

During the month of December in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their historic first flight. Only 83 years later, again in December, the experimental airplane Voyager, piloted by Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, completed the first non-stop, around-the-world flight without refueling and landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination. ~Wilbur Wright

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), [View of Mountain from Airplane]. 1920-1950, gelatin silver print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist.

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979), [View of Mountain from Airplane]. 1920-1950, gelatin silver print, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of the artist, P1979.102.39

Howard Cook (1901-1980), Airplane, 1931, wood engraving, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Howard Cook (1901-1980), Airplane, 1931, wood engraving, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1985.271

Happy holiday travels. Enjoy the scenery!

Spreading the Word

I am traveling this week, so I come to you this morning from gate D2 at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. The goal of this trip is to help advance the profile of our museum across the nation. I have been in St. Louis working with our conservator, Claire Barry, and the conservators at the Saint Louis Art Museum on a proposed exhibition project that we hope to partner on.

Jolly Flatboatmen in Port

George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879), Jolly Flatboatmen in Port, 1857, oil on canvas, Saint Louis Art Museum, Museum Purchase 123, 1944

The exhibition will explore the series of paintings the American artist George Caleb Bingham (1811–1879) made during the 1840s and 1850s of life along the Mississippi River—the edge of the western frontier at the time. While we are interested in the compelling cultural narrative Bingham's work suggests about western expansion, we are also exploring his working process. Yesterday we examined through technical process the underdrawings Bingham made on his canvases and their relationship to the highly finished drawings he made of his primary subject: the men who worked on the river. Through the science of conservation—the art museum equivalent of CSI—we hope to better understand how Bingham linked drawing on paper and canvas to achieve complex, multi-figured paintings. Put another way, we’re endeavoring to get inside his head as a working artist creating a national story for his day. Our process began yesterday to reconstruct Bingham's process, and it will continue for more than a year.

Building partnerships with other art museums to advance scholarship is just one reason to travel on behalf of the Amon Carter. Tomorrow, I continue north to Chicago to develop more relationships that will help bring Fort Worth's great American art museum to the nation.

An American Tradition

On behalf of all of us at the Amon Carter, I want to wish you and yours a happy and safe holiday wherever this Thanksgiving finds you. After you have gathered around your own tables, we hope that you will become part of another American tradition—the Amon Carter Museum of American Art—by bringing your family and friends to enjoy the museum’s great collection. You are always welcome here at our house.

Lewis Dinner Party, Spur Ranch, TX

Erwin E. Smith (1866–1947), Lewis Dinner Party, Spur Ranch, Texas., 1912, nitrate negative, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Bequest of Mary Alice Pettis

Feels Like Fall

Eliot Porter, Apples on Tree After Frost, Tesque, New Mexico, November 21, 1966, dye imbibition print

Eliot Porter (1901-1990)
Apples on Tree After Frost, Tesuque, New Mexico, November 21, 1966
Dye imbibition print
© 1989 Eliot Porter
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Gift of the artist
P1989.19.41

Eliot Porter, Sunset Behind Las Tres Virgenes Volcano, Near Mezquital, Baja, California, August 12, 1956, dye imbibition print

Eliot Porter (1901-1990)
Sunset Behind Las Tres Virgenes Volcano, Near Mezquital Baja, California, August 12, 1956
Dye imbibition print
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of Eliot Porter
P1990.58.7.10

Eliot Porter, Foxtail Grass, Lake City, Colorado, August 1957, dye imbibition print

Eliot Porter (1901-1990)
Foxtail Grass, Lake City, Colorado, August 1957
Dye imbibition print
© 1990 Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Bequest of Eliot Porter
P1990.58.4.3

Check out all of Eliot Porter's photographs for an in-depth look at one of the photography collections from our archives.

Thank You, Veterans

Many thanks to the millions of brave men and women who have served our country in times of war and peace, including those on our museum staff. We also thank the families who supported their loved ones during their service.

 The Soldier's Departure, 1887, chromolithograph

Louis Harlow (1850-1913), Farewell: The Soldier's Departure, 1887, chromolithograph, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, 2003.8.2

But the freedom that they fought for, and the country grand they wrought for,
Is their monument to-day, and for aye.
~Thomas Dunn English

John Marin Revealed

This past weekend, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art opened its fall exhibition, John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury. The exhibition, which brings together 65 of Marin’s paintings in oil and watercolor, takes a fresh and focused look at the artist’s last great body of work, created between 1933 and 1953, the year of Marin’s death.

During those years, Marin wrestled with the planar architectonics of Cubism—so much a part of his production as an early modernist—finally allowing the tension created by cubist form to relax into loose, flowing lines of great descriptive power and urgency. An active agent in the art world of mid-century America, as well as a tried and true observer of nature, Marin produced work in these years that deeply influenced the emerging experimentation of the New York School.

Composition Cape Split Maine

John Marin (1870–1953), Composition, Cape Split, Maine, No. 2, 1933, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1969.9

Our museum’s interest in this underappreciated period of Marin’s long and innovative career began quite early in our history. In 1969, the Amon Carter purchased Marin’s Composition, Cape Split, No. 2, created in 1933. That acquisition in our first decade of operation foreshadowed what is now being celebrated in the exhibition: Marin’s ongoing influence on the energetic and often chaotic art world of mid-century America. The artist’s painterly exuberance in this work marked the start of his period of experimentation between the mediums of oil and watercolor, and it exemplifies his achievement of a lyrical synthesis of the two.

It is fair to say this painting has not gotten its proper due until now. The authentic character of the painting only recently was able to be fully appreciated as Marin’s application of paint and the true colors of his palette lay hidden beneath a thick, shiny layer of old, discolored varnish. Claire Barry and Bart Devolder, the museum’s conservators, expertly removed the varnish in preparation for the exhibition. We are now able to see what Marin intended us to see: a fresh-matte surface and the physicality of brushstrokes that transform the viscosity of the oil medium into a view of the roiling seas of Pleasant Bay near the artist’s home at Cape Split in Addison, Maine. It is a wonder among wonders in John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury, on view at the Amon Carter until January 8, 2012.

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.

2011-20_s_1.jpg

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
2011.20

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.