Second to None
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art highlights the best of the best from its permanent collection.
Throughout the past five decades, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, has acquired one of the world’s finest collections of American paintings, sculpture, photography and works on paper. In an exhibition titled From Remington to O’keeffe: The Carter’s Greatest Hits, the museum features highlights from its permanent collection and several loans from private lenders, including landscapes, Western themes, still lifes, representations
of war, modernist sculptures and more. The collection features a vast range of works demonstrating the mastery and creativity of American artists, including Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, William Henry Jackson and Georgia O’keeffe, among many others.
“We first thought about what has defined this collection and part of that was Ruth Carter Stevenson, daughter of Amon Carter, and her
vision of landscape paintings and artists of the Stieglitz Circle like O’keeffe, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley,” says Shirley Reece-hughes, curator of paintings and sculpture. The museum is also currently in the process of renovating its upstairs galleries, including updates to the flooring, lighting and wall configurations. To allow visitors to still easily view artwork, From Remington to O’keeffe is displayed in the front galleries on the bottom floor, with the exception of pieces by Remington and Russell in a portion upstairs not currently being renovated.
Included in the exhibition is an iconic painting by Remington— and one of the most important Western paintings of all time, for that matter—a Dash for the Timber, 1889. The piece, which depicts a group of riders on horseback rushing toward the viewer in a flurry of dust, was part of an assignment given to Remington by Harper’s Weekly, a magazine that hired illustrators to create images to complement their stories, Reece-hughes explains. Also seen in the exhibition is Remington’s instantly recognizable bronze The Broncho Buster, 1909. “We wanted to tell a story about the progression of American art,” says Reece-hughes.
The Fall of the Cowboy, which Remington painted in 1895, is layered with symbolism pertaining to America history and cowboy culture. “That’s a really pivotal painting because, in many ways, it was signaling the end of the frontier,” Reece-hughes explains. “It’s this cold winter, this kind of eerie feeling of death and conclusion to this era that was being swept away.” In the painting, one cowboy sits on horseback while another closes a wooden gate, symbolizing the end of a prominent period in American history. “It
speaks to Remington as one of the masters of [American art]. It’s like the cowboy way of life is leaving…we’re moving on to the Industrial Revolution. America at that point has been settled, all the frontiers have been conquered. It has a very poetic tone to it,” the curator says. His First Lesson came along eight years later. “This was inspired by a visit to an Americanowned ranch in Chihuahua, Mexico,” Reecehughes recounts. She explains that Remington was on a separate assignment at the time for Harper’s Weekly and kept this particular scene in his memory, finally painting it about 10 years after his visit. “That Mexico sunlight, the streaks you get in the canvas, you see the sun bleaching down on it,” Reece-hughes says of the beauty of the piece.
Another esteemed work comes from
American-german painter Albert Bierstadt, known for his sweeping landscapes of the American West. In 1966, the Amon Carter Museum acquired Sunrise, Yosemite Valley, originally painted circa 1870. “Bierstadt painted multiple views of Yosemite Valley, and this is one of the most stunning ones because of how he captured the atmosphere and the light peeking through,” says Reece-hughes. Here was a German immigrant who was going west, painting these landscapes for an Eastern audience who hadn’t had a chance to see these places, she explains. Bierstadt was part of a generation of artists who promoted the splendor of Yosemite and encouraged people to travel in that direction. Their works also prompted the government to begin focusing on land preservation. “It’s not just about beauty, it’s about what was happening in America at that particular time,” she adds.
“The Western works were the foundation [of the museum]...the only two artists Amon ever collected were Russell and Remington,” says Reece-hughes. Carter died before he was able to see the museum through to fruition, a legacy that was carried on by his daughter. “I think in many ways Ruth had to carry what her father envisioned forward.” While maintaining the original vision of Amon Carter, the museum also endeavors to continuously advance the idea of the West and expand the narrative.
In addition to the powerful Western works featured within the collection, Reece-hughes says the first gallery on the bottom floor focuses on the early 19th century up to the Hudson River School painters like Thomas Cole. In the second gallery, the exhibition moves into the mid-1800s, exploring how American art expanded beyond landscape. She says, “It’s the idea of America being an Eden and the beauty of the landscape, but also looking at how things change as time progresses.” This progression in art history continues throughout the galleries.
Swimming by Thomas Eakins is another prominent work in the collection. “It has this long beautiful history,” she says of the piece, which was purchased by Friends of Art, Fort Worth Art Association in 1925 and then acquired by Amon Carter Museum of American Art in 1990.
“The guiding principle of the museum is to buy the master work of the artist,” she says. George Bellows’ 1917 oil The Fisherman depicts a man, probably the artist himself, on a rocky shoreline casting his line out into tempestuous waters. “It’s a vital painting, bridging two traditions, romanticism and modernism.”
Another focus of the exhibition is rarity, Reece-hughes explains. “We have this piece by Grant Wood, Parson Weems’ Fable...it’s this amazing painting where Grant Wood’s made an almost theatrical stage out of this story [about George Washington],” she says. “It was also painted during a critical time, the rise of fascism in Europe...so it has a lot of resonance to it. It’s also got a touch of humor.” The piece depicts a 6-year-old George Washington with an adult head being chastised for damaging his father’s cherry tree, the longest enduring legend about America’s first president.
The exhibition runs through June 2.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), A Dash for the Timber, 1889, oil on canvas, 48¼ x 84⅛”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection.
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Sunrise, Yosemite Valley, ca. 1870, oil on canvas, 36½ x 52⅜”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1966.1.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), The Broncho Buster, 1909, bronze, 48¼ x 84⅛”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), The Old Stage-coach of the Plains, 1901, oil on canvas, 40¼ x 27¼”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection. 1961.232.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), The Fall of the Cowboy, 1895, oil on canvas, 25 x 35⅛”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection. 1961.230.
Clockwise from left: Robert Seldon Duncanson (1821-1872), The Caves, 1869, oil on canvas, 36 x 30¾”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 2012.8.
George Bellows (1882-1925), The Fisherman, 1917, oil on canvas, 30⅛ x 44”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909), His First Lesson, 1903, oil on canvas, 27¼ x 40”. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection. 1961.231.