Amon Carter Museum Announces Acquisition of John Singer Sargent Painting

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Tracy Greene
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Jessica Poole
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Release date: 
September 21, 2001

Works by Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, Stuart Davis, Frederic Remington and other landmark acquisitions revealed in "An American Collection: Works from the Amon Carter Museum"

Slides available upon request; view selected images on Web site: http://www.cartermuseum.org

FORT WORTH, Texas --- The Amon Carter Museum announced today that it has acquired "Alice Vanderbilt Shepard" (oil on canvas, 1888) by John Singer Sargent (1856--1925), one of the most important American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This painting and many other major acquisitions are revealed in the Carter's new publication, "An American Collection: Works from the Amon Carter Museum." The works will be on view when the museum reopens Sunday, October 21, following its two-year, $39 million expansion. "An American Collection" lavishly illustrated in color, is available in bookstores.

"The museum's collection contains many seminal examples of American painting, and we are very pleased to add the Sargent portrait to our holdings," noted Rick Stewart, the Carter's director. "The painting is a masterwork of Sargent's style-a tour de force of painterly technique and an unusually sensitive portrayal of a vibrant young woman from the Gilded Age."

"Alice Vanderbilt Shepard" is distinct from many other Sargent portraits because the sitter was of his own choosing. When Sargent made a working visit to Boston and New York in 1887, he had already achieved acclaim as a painter of high society in Europe, where he had lived as a well-to-do expatriate. During the four months the artist spent in New York, prosperous patrons clamored to sit for him.

Sargent had met Alice Vanderbilt Shepard, who was noted for her astounding beauty, when he was executing a commission for her father, the lawyer and newspaper publisher Elliott Fitch Shepard. When Sargent asked permission to make Alice's portrait, Mrs. Shepard relented only when she was assured that the sittings would be limited in order to preserve her daughter's delicate constitution. At the time, Alice was just thirteen years old and recovering from a riding accident. The resulting work is one of Sargent's most naturalistic and incisive portraits. Poise, refinement, grace, and a sense of innate intelligence emanate from Alice. Her radiant face is the most carefully worked area in the portrait; it is loosely and thinly painted, but with great assurance.

Sargent's striking portrait is featured in the pages of "An American Collection: Works from the Amon Carter Museum," the finest and most comprehensive catalogue yet published on the Amon Carter Museum's permanent collection. The introduction, written by Stewart, relates the Amon Carter Museum's history and recent expansion, telling the story-through both words and pictures-of its founder and namesake, Amon G. Carter Sr. The publication reproduces 125 masterworks in all media, ranging in date from 1822 to 1998, in full color and rich duotone. A brief essay accompanies each reproduction, along with a biography of the artist and general object information. The book features many long-time favorites from the Carter's holdings, and a number of important works recently added to the collection.

In addition to the Sargent portrait, the museum has also acquired an untitled mobile created ca. 1942 by the noted American sculptor Alexander Calder (1898--1976). The work is composed of a whimsical yet balanced array of variously shaped and colored elements suspended from five thin arms of colored wire. The balance is so carefully conceived that the slightest breath of air on one of the small elements can set the entire array moving in a slow, yet deliberate manner.

One of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century, Calder pioneered new forms and materials for his work that incorporated the concepts of space, time and motion. In 1942, around the time he made this piece, he defined the mobile as a type of abstract sculpture that moved by mechanical or other means. He likened his early moving sculptures to planetary systems, whose separate elements rotated in overlapping orbits, resulting in ever-changing relationships.

Two sculptures by Louise Nevelson (1899--1988), one of this nation's most innovative and best-known sculptors, have been acquired by the Carter and are featured in the publication. Nevelson's family emigrated from Russia when she was six years old. Though she intended to study art, she instead married shipping merchant Charles Nevelson. The traditional domestic role did not suit her, and the couple separated in 1929. During the financially difficult years that followed, Nevelson studied modern dance and became infatuated with the nude female form. As she practiced dance, she was drawn to the idea of capturing three-dimensional movement in sculptural form. Between 1932 and 1941, Nevelson made a series of figural pieces that reveal clear autobiographical associations. One of her earliest works, "Untitled" (painted plaster, ca. 1935), portrays a kneeling dancer that changes dramatically as one moves around it. The capacity for self-expression displayed in this work helped propel her into becoming one of the most notable American sculptors of the later 20th century.

"Lunar Landscape" (painted wood, 1959--60), is one of a series of wall reliefs that Nevelson began in 1958, when she started scavenging odd pieces of wood from the streets around her New York City studio. This work is a prime example from that series, conveying a powerful combination of lyricism and enigma. Nevelson selected fragments of recognizable objects, painted them a uniform black, and arranged them according to their shapes and forms, not their function. As a result, the objects seem to lose their identities when recombined in a new way.

"Chinatown" (oil on canvas, 1912) by Stuart Davis (1892--1964) joins several other important paintings by him in the Carter's collection and adds to the museum's significant representation of modernist works. Born into an artistic family, Davis moved to New York City as a teenager to join the circle of realist artists who became known as the Ashcan School. He quickly assimilated the teachings of the group's spirited leader, Robert Henri, who encouraged his followers to paint honest appraisals of contemporary life. In "Chinatown," Davis depicted the seamy underpinnings of a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. The Pidgin English on the storefront, "Sun Yet Pleasure," offers a clue to the work's subtle narrative: the woman walking alone is probably a prostitute. Davis' attraction to social issues reflected his association with the artists and writers who founded the socialist magazine, The Masses (1911--17). United in their sympathetic approach toward the plight of the lower classes, they perceived prostitutes as unfortunate victims of society.

Frederic Remington's (1861--1909) "The Outlaw" (bronze, design copyright 1906; cast 1907) is the Carter's first lifetime cast of one of the artist's most important bronzes. By the time he created the design for "The Outlaw," his 14th subject in bronze, Remington had achieved fame for his spirited and imaginative works depicting the Old West. Fewer than 15 lost-wax casts of "The Outlaw" were produced by the Roman Bronze Works in the artist's lifetime. This finely detailed cast retains its original greenish-black patina, and numerous areas bear direct evidence of Remington's hand, such as brushstrokes on the surface, fingerprints, and tool marks where the artist modified the wax model. Throughout his remarkable career, Remington refined the theme of the horse and rider, and in this work the tension and drama reach a new level of complexity. "Few eastern people appreciate the skyrocket bounds, grunts, and stiff-legged striking," Remington wrote at one point. The composition is wonderfully daring, with the horse pitched forward at an angle that seems to defy gravity or the strength of the bronze itself.

Several important photography acquisitions, in addition to those recently announced by the Carter, are also highlighted in "An American Collection." "Untitled [Bolton Landing Tableau]" (gelatin silver print with applied varnish, 1932) by David Smith (1906--1965) is a prime example of the modernist sculptor's work with photography. Smith's propensity for photographing his own sculptures is well known, but scholars have recently revealed that photography was an integral part of his creative process early in his career. He created this photograph shortly after taking up the camera, just as he was completing his study of painting and drawing at the Art Students League in New York City.

"Interior, Nashville" (gelatin silver print, 1938) by Peter Sekaer (1901--1950), offers a compelling image of two African American women in a dark, dilapidated kitchen. The image was taken while Sekaer was doing work for the United States Housing Authority. His assignment was to document slums in 20 American cities that had just accepted federal funds to build public housing. Though Sekaer maintained that he wanted to be called a photographer and not an artist, the dramatic composition and skillful lighting of this photograph shows he was both.

In the late, 1940s 17-year-old Red Jackson, leader of the Midtowners, a Harlem gang, allowed Life photographer Gordon Parks (b. 1912) to document the gang's activities for the magazine. "Red Jackson" (gelatin silver print, 1948, printed before 1962) was made during the tense moments when Jackson peered through a broken window during the height of a turf war between the Midtowners and a rival gang. This photograph was the lead image of the 19 included in the Nov. 1, 1948, Life story.

"Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Utah" (gelatin silver print, 1982) by Linda Connor (b. 1944) was taken after the artist hiked four miles down a trail that descends 700 feet to document this pictograph of mummy-shaped figures known as the Holy Ghost panel. She was one of five photographers who, in an effort to rediscover the spiritual in the contemporary landscape, recorded images of rock art in the early 1980s. The project resulted in the publication titled "Marks in Place: Contemporary Responses to Prehistoric Rock Art" (1988).

"View from a Bed" (gelatin silver print, 1998) is one of several works by noted Texas photographer Keith Carter (b. 1948). With this image, the photographer directs our attention to a mundane object and makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. What lacks distinction becomes miraculous and confirms the presence of the magical in our daily lives.

"An American Collection" does not feature all the important acquisitions the Carter made during the period it was under construction. Many other surprises will be unveiled for the first time when the museum opens in October.

About the Amon Carter Museum

Through the generosity of Amon G. Carter (1879--1955), the museum opened in 1961 to house his collection of approximately 400 paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. The collection has since grown to almost 250,000 works of American art, including masterpieces in painting, sculpture, photography and works on paper by leading artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The photography collection alone is one of the largest and most significant in the country. As a whole, the Carter's collection presents a vivid panorama of American art and culture from 1825 to 1950.

The museum's new building will have three times the exhibition space as before, allowing four times the amount of artworks to be on view. The trademark façade and 19,000 square feet of architect Philip Johnson's original 1961 structure remain intact, while additions from 1964 and 1975 have been replaced with the new construction. The 95-year-old Johnson and his firm, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, designed the Carter expansion, resulting in what Johnson has called "by far the best building plan we have ever done." Thus, the architecture of the museum, both old and new, spans the career of one of the world's most distinguished architects.

The addition, covered in a rare brown granite that was quarried in Saudi Arabia and fabricated in Italy, was designed as an understated backdrop for the 1961 building, complementing its exterior of creamy Texas shellstone. The result is a stunning yet functional structure of timeless design that provides expansive areas not only for the display and storage of the collection but also for research, education, membership activities and other programs.

For more information about the Amon Carter Museum or to attend the museum's press preview on Friday, October 12, , please call Carol Noel, public relations coordinator, at 817.738.1933, ext. 5066, or e-mail carol.noel@cartermuseum.org.