Portrait of Hank Williams, Sr. in the style of record labels and carnival banners

Collections Spotlight: Roger Brown

By | Spotlight | No Comments

Roger Brown
(American, 1941–1997)
Hank Williams, Honky Tonk Man,
Oil on canvas
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art,
Auburn University; museum purchase

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Alabama native Roger Brown frequently returned to subjects close to his southern upbringing. In this case, he portrays the early country music legend and fellow Alabamian, Hank Williams, in a fittingly monumental scale. Brown had a long-running fascination with folk art and craft, and imagery prevalent in popular culture. His heroic portrait of Williams recalls both the format of the once ubiquitous record album cover as well as the type of hand-painted banners found in circuses and fairground sideshows.

Portrait of Hank Williams, Sr. in the style of record labels and carnival banners
Lithograph of Mexican street vendors selling flowers

Collections Spotlight: Diego Rivera

By | Spotlight | No Comments

Diego Rivera
(Mexican, 1886–1957)
Mercado de Flores, 1930
Edition: 26/49
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; gift to the
Robert B. Ekelund, Jr. Collection in memory of his father, Robert B. Ekelund

Diego Rivera is arguably the most important figure in modern Mexican art, whose diverse body of work had a profound influence on his contemporaries and subsequent generations of Mexican and international artists. Rivera spent nearly 14 years in Europe early in his career, absorbing the range of early 20th-century modernist trends. Inspired by the Russian October Revolution, he returned home in 1921 carrying both a desire for social reform and strong aspirations to create a truly “Mexican art.” Those goals merged in the form of public murals, which Rivera and a host of his colleagues painted in Mexico City and in sites across the country. The ensuing “Mexican Mural Movement” attracted scores of artists from around the world—including Jean Charlot, Howard Cook, and Maltby Sykes, each represented in this exhibition—to engage in Mexico’s vibrant and politically charged artistic scene and, in particular, to learn from the modern master, Rivera.

Lithograph of Mexican street vendors selling flowers
Detail of lithograph of Mexican flower vendors

While best known for his public frescoes on a monumental scale, Rivera also produced many smaller paintings and prints, such as Mercado de Flores. The ability to create art that was accessible to “the people” motivated Rivera’s work in public murals. Similarly, the print medium allowed Rivera to make images that were widely distributable and affordable to the working class. Typical of Rivera’s art, Mercado de Flores, a lithograph produced during one of the artist’s most fertile periods, is imbued with subtle political undertones. Through simple lines, he renders a group of faceless, peasant, flower vendors on their knees before a parade of more bourgeois shoppers. That Rivera identified with the common workers is made clear in the fact that he placed himself, and thus his point of view, on the vendors’ side of the road.

Landscape of New Mexico hills and sky

Collection Spotlight: Georgia O’Keeffe

By | Spotlight | No Comments
Landscape of New Mexico hills and sky

Georgia O’Keeffe
(American, 1887–1986)
80 Small Hills Near Alcalde, 1930
Oil on canvas
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University;
Advancing American Art Collection

By Dr. Marilyn Laufer, director

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929. Upon her return from that trip, she wrote a letter to her friend Rebecca Strand, noting that she had visited Alcalde, a small town forty miles south of Taos, for three or four days.1 While in Alcalde, she stayed at the H & M Ranch, owned by Marie Tudor Garland, a painter, poet, and author. When O’Keeffe visited New Mexico again, in the summer of 1931, she returned to Alcalde, renting a small cottage from Garland.2 Both of these early visits were productive for her and resulted in many drawings and paintings. A number of those preparatory works directly relate to this painting, which was exhibited by her husband Alfred Stieglitz at his gallery An American Place in 1931.

Detail of small hills and sky

O’Keeffe all but fills the panoramic sweep of this small canvas with an undulating natural form that evokes the high desert landscape. Only the slightest contrast of blue sky and white clouds appears at the very top. As she often did in her New Mexico landscapes, she focuses on the land itself. At first, the overall sand tones are disappointing, considering what a brilliant colorist O’Keeffe could be, but the subtle pink to mauve and contrasting greens that she used to define this barren outcropping become evident upon further observation. There is a miragelike quality to this painting of rolling hills that varies from a flat and two-dimensional image to a massive formation of sand, stone, and shadow. Contemplating it, one realizes it affords the viewer an accurate experience of the New Mexico landscape, which can change instantly as light and shadow transform the scene. Like Cos Cob (cat. no. 79), O’Keeffe’s other painting acquired for Advancing American Art, this work was completed some time before the historic exhibition. Although we know Stieglitz served as an advisor for Advancing American Art and most likely recommended these paintings, along with others from his gallery at the time, it is important to recognize that much of the work included in the project was done by wellrespected and -established modern artists, such as O’Keeffe. In other words, it did not solely comprise examples by the leftist radicals certain members of Congress depicted in their criticisms.

In anticipation of Auburn’s celebration of 125 Years of Auburn Women, curators will campaign to acquire work by women artists, thus adding to the 54 females currently represented in the collection. Learn more.

Logo celebrating 1892-2017 and Auburn women
A buzzard descends upon a hare.

Collection Spotlight: John James Audubon

By | Spotlight | No Comments

John James Audubon
(American, 1785–1851)
Common Buzzard, Plate CCCLXXVII
The Birds of America, first edition, Vol. IV, 1838
Hand-colored aquatint, etching, and line engraving
Published by R. Havell and Son, London
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn
University; The Louise Hauss and David Brent Miller
Audubon Collection

By Scott Bishop, curator of education

In The Birds of America, the four-volume ornithological catalogue of North America—published between 1827 and 1838, John James Audubon provided idealized but characteristic depictions of the countryside from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River as backgrounds for his exacting portraits of indigenous wildlife. Though The Birds of America sometimes recorded sweeping landscapes viewed from great heights, other times Audubon narrowed his focus down to a more intimate level, depicting birds in their habitats and rendering specific, identifiable plants and details from their immediate environments. In almost every case, the birds are rendered as though at eye-level, whether seen on the ground, perched on a branch, or caught in midflight.

A buzzard descends upon a hare.

The Birds of America is the cumulative work of many people. Audubon’s family and friends as well as employees assisted in every stage of production. Audubon worked out the compositions in graphite on canvas and then original paintings were made in watercolor, pastels, gouache, and ink. Audubon painted the representation of the birds in meticulous detail, while assistants often provided the floral or landscape backgrounds. When the compositions were sent to Robert Havell and Son in London, the engraver would translate the composition onto a copper plate to be used for engraving. Most of the prints are extremely close copies of the original paintings, but Audubon sometimes instructed Havell to change the composition, and even asked that he provide landscapes.

Detail of a print depicting a buzzard descending upon a hare.

Audubon drew this bird during the winter of 1836-37 in Charleston from a skin collected in the American West by Thomas Nuttall and John Kirk Townsend. Audubon’s son, John Woodhouse, painted the hare. Audubon probably took his cue for the background from the description of the bird by another naturalist, John Richardson, who wrote that it “haunts the low alluvial points of land which stretch out under the banks of a river.” He may have sent a background separately, but nevertheless Audubon had the engraver add a river scene in the background. Maria Martin, Audubon’s assistant in Charleston, painted the horned toad, which appears in Plate CCCXXXVI, the Common Egret.

Offset reproduction of Audubon’s original painting in the collection of the New York Historical Society, 1966.

Cubist-inflected oil painting of a landscape

Collection Spotlight: Frank Applebee

By | Spotlight | No Comments
Cubist-inflected oil painting of a landscape

Frank Applebee
(American, 1902–1988)
Untitled (landscape), 1949
Oil on board
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University; museum purchase

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

This Cubist-inflected landscape by Frank Applebee, founder of the art department at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University), illustrates the progressive attitudes in art that were taught and put into practice in post-World War II Auburn. It was Applebee who spearheaded the effort to purchase the group of modern paintings known as Advancing American Art that formed the core collection for this museum.

Woman pulling her son up subway stairs.

Those thirty-six avant-garde paintings arrived on campus in the summer of 1948, and quickly provided instructive examples for students and faculty alike. Note the similar geometric merging of narrative figuration and abstract patterns in both Applebee’s Alabama landscape and O. Louis Guglielmi’s New York urban composition, shown left.

Louis O. Guglielmi
Subway Exit, 1946
Oil on canvas
Advancing American Art Collection
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University
Print of New York City during a storm.

Collection Spotlight: Martin Lewis

By | Spotlight | No Comments
Print of New York City during a storm.

Martin Lewis
(American, born in Australia, 1881–1962)
Passing Storm, 1919
Mezzotint Edition: 55
Museum purchase in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Maltby Sykes

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Born in Castlemaine, Australia, Martin Lewis spent most of his life in New York City, creating scores of indelible images of the city’s settings and inhabitants. Although he also worked in oils and watercolors, Lewis’s remarkable skills at etching earned him the reputation as one of America’s major print makers. Essentially self-taught in the medium, Lewis’s first print in 1915 was reportedly so good that his friend Edward Hopper asked Lewis to teach him etching techniques. Lewis was often drawn to nighttime scenes, which allowed him the opportunity to render moody atmospheric effects and dramatic shadows.

While many of the later prints focused on close confines along metropolitan streets and sidewalks, this relatively early work takes a more distant, sweeping view, but is no less dramatic in its depiction. Printed in sepia ink on warmtoned paper, the image’s variegated textures and rich range of values conjure a romantic assessment of The City as a magical destination. With almost operatic meteorological treatment of the heavens above towering skyscrapers, Lewis imbues the scene with sublime mystery and enticement: the clouds literally part to spotlight the destination for so many pilgrims to the land of opportunity.

Detail of the New York City skyline with light shining down.

The printmaking technique employed here is especially difficult to manipulate and print, making the complex image all that more remarkable. Mezzotint is a special type of engraving in which the artist renders an image by burnishing a textured copper plate to create lighter tones out of a dark field, as if drawing in white chalk on a black sheet of paper. The technique allows subtle gradations of light to dark, but the fragility of the plate’s surface permits few prints to be pulled. Only fifty-five impressions of Passing Storm were made, many of which have gone into the most important museum collections.

Collection Spotlight: William Zorach

By | Spotlight | No Comments

William Zorach
(American, born in Lithuania, 1887–1966)
Torso with Head (the artist’s daughter,
Dahlov, at age ten), 1927
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2012, in memory of Mrs. Dorry Ann Johnston Blackburn, Dr. Lucile McGehee Haynes, and Mrs. Jean Farr Henderson

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

William Zorach met his wife Marguerite while both were studying painting in Paris in 1911. Their careers as American modernists were nurtured by the vibrancy of New York and the solace of summers spent in the countryside. The land they bought in coastal Maine in 1923 is still home to their daughter, Dahlov, the subject of this stone carving, who became a painter and noted children’s book illustrator.

statue of young woman's dorso
detail of young woman's torso

In 1922 Zorach devoted himself full-time to sculpture. His self-taught practice of direct carving in wood and stone resulted in simple and compact forms inspired by Western antiquity as well as the art of Africa and the Aztec. Torso with Head references the early Greek archaic style of a kouros. Like ancient Greek statuary that illustrated the ideal of youth in a perfectly balanced figure—exemplifying beauty, health, and inner strength—Zorach’s piece is less concerned with capturing the personality of his ten-year-old daughter as much as it is an expression of the essence of youthful grace. Nonetheless, those who know his work easily come to recognize the pointed chin and bangs of this beloved daughter. The Zorachs adored both of their children, who often served as models as did their own offspring, giving a true sense of how intertwined their art and family life were.

Two photographs side-by-side of puppies camouflaged by rocks.

Collection Spotlight: William Wegman

By | Spotlight | No Comments
Two photographs side-by-side of puppies camouflaged by rocks.

William Wegman
(American, born 1943)
Rocks and Stones (puppies on rocks), 1992
C-print, diptych
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2011

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Upon first glance these large-scale, horizon-less photographs of rocks might be regarded in much the same way one might examine a modern diptych painting. The overall pattern of repetitive shapes rendered with just slight variations in color is a handsome close encounter with the natural world. But then it dawns on you: some of these rocky forms are not at all what they appear to be. There are soft vulnerable puppies randomly placed among the rubble, creating something akin to a photographic Where’s Waldo puzzle.

William Wegman began to photograph his first Weimaraner, Man Ray, shortly after he brought home the six-week-old puppy in 1970. Since then he has continued to use a successive family of Weimaraners as his models and his muses. When May Ray died in 1981, it took six years for Wegman to decide to adopt another dog, which he named Fay Ray because of her elegant demeanor. Since her passing, the artist has worked with one or more of Fay’s descendents to create a memorable body of photographic work.

A close-up photograph of puppies hidden among rocks.

Because we are delighted and charmed by the unlikely antics of these dogs, which Wegman often poses in costume, we might mistake the images more as parody than high art. This interpretation would be far from accurate. Using a large-format camera, and working with a variety of processes that include Polaroid, Type C and now digital, Wegman’s art is ultimately about transformation. He is masterful at taking what we think we know and showing it to us as something we might otherwise have never considered. Wegman fully understands the nature of photography and how its product is more often thought of as a document rather that an invented image. His generation of photographers challenged traditional assumptions about the veracity of the photograph by manipulating their images. In this case Wegman has used the most unlikely of associations to achieve his intent, through the incredulous comparison of soft puppies and hard stones. The humor and magic of this work make the very complicated ideas inherent in conceptual art photography accessible to, and appreciated by, a wider audience.

Collection Spotlight: Frederick William MacMonnies

By | Spotlight | No Comments

Frederick William MacMonnies
(American 1863–1937)
Pan of Rohallion, 1894
Bronze with dark brown patina
29 ½ 8 ½ x 10 inches
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2010

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

Pan of Rohallion was originally created in 1889-90, as a six-foot bronze figure for a fountain on the estate of banker Edward Dean Adams in Sea Bright (Rumson), New Jersey. It was Stanford White of the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White who had brought the sculptor, Frederick MacMonnies, to Adams’ attention. MacMonnies, born in Brooklyn, New York to Scottish immigrants, had received an honorable mention that year in Paris at the Salon, where he had gone to study on scholarship.

MacMonnies’s version of Pan was not the customary satyr but an elegant, attenuated youth draped in a rabbit skin, who serenades the eight fish gathered at his feet intended to spray jets of water. The two pipes or reeds that extend from his lips into each graceful hand were also not the usual version of a pan flute, the musical instrument normally associated with Pan. The artist, working in the Beaux–Arts style seemed more intent to invent a charming sprite for a garden setting than reiterate the familiar mythological character. The figure is delightfully and naturally animated. He fills his cheeks with breath to play his instrument while he arches his back and splays his toes in order to keep his precarious balance on the orb.

MacMonnies’s conception was so admired that Adams permitted the artist to make a number of smaller replicas. The limited editions were cast by four foundries; Roman Bronze Works in New York as well as Gruet, Leblanc- Barbedienne, and Jaboeuf-Rouard in Paris. This version is stamped with the latter Parisian foundry seal and is a superb cast. These “parlor bronzes” were sold with great success through Starr’s Fifth Avenue jewelry store as well as at Tiffany’s in New York. Edith Wharton among others collected these smaller versions. Today they are found in museums such as the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. While still a teenager, MacMonnies began his career in the studio of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, eventually moving to the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League before heading to Paris to enroll at the Ecole des Beaux- Arts. Finding success in Paris as well as in the United States, MacMonnies was commissioned to design the main fountain sculpture for the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair in Chicago, entitled Triumph of Columbia, which still graces the city.

Landscape depicting Massachusetts

Collection Spotlight: Victor de Grailly

By | Spotlight | No Comments
Landscape depicting Massachusetts

Victor de Grailly
French View from Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts (and the Oxbow, Connecticut River) Oil on canvas
Museum purchase with funds provided by the 1072 Society, 2013 and the Susan Phillips Museum Acquisition Endowment

By Dennis Harper, curator of collections and exhibitions

One of the most significant American landscapes of the early nineteenth century is Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm––The Oxbow, done in 1836. This large painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York reflects the artist’s awareness of the American wilds being transformed by the forces of progress. Cole contrasts the distant valley’s well-tended farms and steam-powered trains with the foreground’s untamed wilderness, dominated by a blasted tree. The artist’s umbrella and other paraphernalia are packed and ready to be taken back down the bluff to civilization before the threatening thunderstorm erupts. The spectacular view of this curl in the Connecticut River was reason enough to depict this vista but Cole was equally taken with the possibility to reflect upon this young nation’s settlement and growth. Many historians have noted that Cole’s image was in fact a visual commentary on the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

The image by Cole makes for an interesting comparison with the present painting, completed a few years later by the French artist Victor de Grailly, one of three known versions by the artist. The others are in the collections at Smith College Museum of Art (ca. 1840) and Mead Art Museum at Amherst College (ca. 1845). Though famous for his Hudson River School-style landscapes of the United States, de Grailly likely never traveled to America. Inspiration for this work and his many other American landscapes was the 1840 London publication American Scenery, containing detailed descriptions of American landmarks and tourist destinations with engravings after the artist William Henry Bartlett.

Although little is known of de Grailly’s life, it appears he pursued two distinct artistic careers. A student of the neo-classical painter Jean Victor Bertin, de Grailly was an active participant in the Paris academic salons for almost fifty years, exhibiting Romantic paintings inspired by Camille Corot for which he was awarded two medals. Outside the salon competitions, he produced a group of very marketable American landscapes, often, as in this case, in multiples. Though de Grailly was not the only painter to capitalize on the popular views in American Scenery, he was among the most successful. His receptive American audience is evidenced by the fact that his Hudson River School work was exhibited in Baltimore, Charleston, and New York between 1845 and 1858.

Since de Grailly’s canvas was intended as a popular scenic view it has less of the underlying allegoriy of Cole’s painting. Unlike Cole, who depicts the raw natural setting of the overlook, de Grailly features a park-like setting inhabited by a group of fashionable figures on an outing wearing top hats and sweeping full skirts. In the distance we view a flourishing and well-established valley crowned by a bright sky spotted with voluminous clouds. De Grailly’s image characterizes the New World as an idyllic place of order, reason, and prosperity––something that would appeal to both a European’s fantasy of America and to the enthusiastic aspirations of his optimistic American clientele.

Welcome to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art!

We are excited that you are here with us. Feel free to look around and reach out to us by navigating to our contact page.