The Denver Art Museum is one of the largest art museums between Chicago and the West Coast, with a collection of more than 70,000 works of art divided between 10 permanent collections including African, American Indian, Asian, European and American, modern and contemporary, pre-Columbian, photography, Spanish Colonial, textile, and western American art. In 1971 the museum opened the 24-sided, two-towered North Building by Ponti in collaboration with James Sudler Associates of Denver. On October 7, 2006, the Denver Art Museum nearly doubled in size when they opened the Frederic C. Hamilton Building which includes new galleries for its permanent collection, three temporary exhibition spaces, art storage, and public amenities. The entire museum complex totals more than 350,000 square feet. The 146,000-square-foot Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a joint venture of Daniel Libeskind and Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects in 2000, is situated directly south of the North Building. Libeskind's design, referential to the original Ponti building, recalls not only the mountain peaks that provide a powerful backdrop for the city, but the intricate and geometric rock crystals found in the foothills of the Rockies.
Deborah Butterfield (1949- ) is an important American sculptor who began to show her work in the 1970s. For three decades, the single subject of Butterfield's art has been the horse. This horse made out of recycled materials is a well traveled road, but hers are a bit more feminine and reminiscent of a delicate newly born foal. To me, Ed Mell (1942- ) evokes the “cubist/futurism” of Ossip Zadkine in a western context. My favorite of the sculptures is the Hereford Bull of Francis Lamont (1899-1975), which I think gives the power and strength of the animal similar in execution to the power of Rodin's nude study of Balzac. A close second is the faux vase bought from the Metropolitan Art Museum which conceals the real vase and a painting behind the flat representation of a pitcher.
In 1886, Robert Henri (1865-1929) enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he studied under Thomas Anshutz, a protege of Thomas Eakins, and Thomas Hovenden. In 1888, he traveled to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, where he studied under the academic realist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, came to admire greatly the work of Francois Millet, and embraced Impressionism. By 1895, Henri had come to reconsider his earlier love of Impressionism, calling it a “new academicism.” He was urging his friends and proteges to create a new, more realistic art that would speak directly to their own time and experience. He believed that it was the right moment for American painters to seek out fresh, less genteel subjects in the modern American city. The paintings by Henri, Sloan, Glackens, Luks, Shinn, and others of their acquaintance that were inspired by this outlook eventually came to be called the Ashcan School of American art. They spurned academic painting and Impressionism as an art of mere surfaces. In 1910, with the help of John Sloan and Walt Kuhn, Henri organized the Exhibition of Independent Artists, the first nonjuried, no-prize show in the U.S., which he modeled after the Salon des Indépendants in France. The relationship between Henri and Sloan, both believers in Ashcan realism, was a close and productive one at this time; Kuhn would play a key role in the 1913 Armory Show. The Armory Show, American's first large-scale introduction to European Modernism, was a mixed experience for Henri. He exhibited five paintings but, as a representational artist, he naturally understood that Cubism, Fauvism, and Futurism implied a challenge to his style of picture-making. In fact, he had cause to be worried. A man, not yet fifty, who saw himself in a vanguard was about to be relegated to the position of a conservative whose day had passed, reminiscent of the position of Renoir toward the end of his life.
In 1909 Andrew Dasburg (1887-1971) visited Paris and joined the modernist circle of artists living there, including Morgan Russell, Jo Davidson, and Arthur Lee. Dasburg stayed in Paris where he met Henri Matisse, Gertrude Stein and Leo Stein, and became influenced by the paintings of Cézanne and Cubism. He soon became an ardent promoter of the Cubist style. By 1917 Dasburg began teaching painting in Woodstock and in New York City. In 1918 he was invited to Taos, New Mexico by Mabel Dodge Luhan and returned to Taos in 1919. After moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1921, Dasburg integrated the boxy traditional construction styles in New Mexico into his Cubist art. In both New York and Taos, he was part of the social milieu that included Georgia O'Keeffe and Gertrude Stein, and a close friend of Mabel Dodge Luhan.
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was a pioneering modernist painter and poet who was part of the circle of artists around legendary dealer Alfred Stieglitz. Hartley first traveled to Europe in April 1912, and he became acquainted with Gertude Stein's circle of avante-garde writers and artists in Paris. Stein, along with Hart Crane and Sherwood Anderson, encouraged Hartley to write as well as paint. Hartley painted landscapes, portraits, and still lifes imbued with a spiritual expressiveness. He was also was one of a circle of American painters that included Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, Arthur Dove, and Charles Demuth, all artists collected enthusiastically by Duncan Phillips.
In 1921, Joseph Bakos (1891-1977) founded Los Cinco Pintores (the Five Painters), Santa Fe's first formal art association. Along with colleagues Will Shuster, Walter Mruk, Willard Nash and Fremont Ellis, Bakos pursued the ideal of creating art for society as a whole – art for the common man and collector alike. Though they believed themselves to be modernists, or at least billed themselves as such, Los Cinco Pintores was a loosely-formed coalition of painters painting in greatly disparate styles. Fremont Ellis and Will Shuster can't even generously be labeled modernists, and Jozef Bakos and Walter Mruk are better defined as fauvists or impressionists.
Willard Nash (1898-1943), referred to hyperbolically as “the American Cezanne,” was the most progressive and multidimensional member of the short-lived group of Santa Fe artists known as “Los Cinco Pintores.” Nash came the closest of the group to modernism, dabbling in cubism, fauvism and expressionism while adhering dogmatically to none.
As a painter and a professor, Raymond Jonson (1891-1982) was instrumental in developing a distinctive abstract movement in New Mexico. In 1938 Jonson helped form the famed Transcendental Painting Group in order to broaden the public's knowledge and acceptance of non-objective painting.
Victor Higgins (1884-1949) traveled to New York in 1908, where he met Robert Henri, who became a significant influence by depicting every-day scenes and stressing the importance of the spirit and sense of place as important factors in painting. Higgins was also greatly affected by the New York Armory Modernism Show of Marsden Hartley in 1913. In 1914 Taos was an isolated village about 12 hours from Santa Fe on an impossible dirt road. But the colorful life of the pueblo people and the natural beauty drew a collection of artists who became the Taos art colony, from which the Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915. Victor Higgins became a permanent resident within a year of his arrival and a member of the society in 1917, exhibiting with Jane Peterson in 1925 and with Wayman Adams and Janet Scudder in 1927. The landscape became his primary focus with some still life and portrait work. Having met Dasburg and Marin in Taos, he experimented with multi-point perspective and interlocking planes. By the 1930s he had completely departed from his academic training and exhibited a strong cubist influence in his oil painting and the many watercolors he created.
W. Herbert Dunton (1878-1936) was becoming strained from the pressures associated with being a commercial illustrator. In June of 1912, Ernest Blumenschein suggested to Dunton that he visit Taos, New Mexico. After this initial visit, and another the following year, W. Herbert Dunton permanently relocated to Taos in 1914. This is where he was able to thrive as a western illustrator, combining his two loves, hunting and painting. It is Ernest Blumenschein who can be given the credit for getting Mr. Dunton to this environment. In July 1915, Dunton helped found the Taos Society of Artists with Berninghaus, Blumenschein, Couse, Phillips, and Sharp, and exhibited with the Taos Society all over the United States during its annual exhibition circuits. He resigned from the Society in 1922, however, perhaps because of a disparaging remark made by Walter Ufer about Blumenschein.
After serving his country in the Navy during World War I, Gerald Curtis Delano (1890-1972) made the decision to travel west and in 1921, homesteaded in the Rocky Mountains on Cataract Creek in Colorado. A log cabin served as both a home and studio for him. In Colorado, the snows, which always seemed to come early and stay late, were a magnificent inspiration for a person who loved to paint the wilderness as Jerry did. A slogan of the Navajo, “Walk with Beauty,” became the guidepost to his rededicated efforts in the field of art. Through the years, in blossom and in wilt, the principal theme of Delano's canvases consistently centered around the Indian and the horse. Since 1940, when he painted “Navajo Shepherdess,” Gerard Curtis Delano has become the Painter of the Navajo. During the past twenty-five years, he produced hundreds of masterful portrayals in oils and water color-all radiating with spectacular effect the beauty that is Navajo and Navajoland.
Colorado artist Frank Mechau (1904-1946) created works of enduring potency and beauty that have earned for him an important place in American art. Much of his best-known artwork depicts scenes inspired by the American west, scenes rendered in a distinctive style that conveys elegant movement and fluidity in the arrangement of figures and forms. Central to much of his work is a deep love of the natural world from which he abstracted both monumental and delicate elements. – He particularly loved the beauty of horses – their forms and their movement.
The Modern Art section of the Denver Art Museum is a world-class collection for its depth of coverage of artistic movements and the breadth of the artists represented. The curators are to be highly commended for the clear presentation and tight integration of the themes of the remarkable art of the American Southwest particularly during the first part of the twentieth century. This collection reminds me that the changes in Paris around the turn of the century were happening also in the United States. When I was growing up in the 1960's, Denver was not known as a cultural mecca. Things have changed a great deal and this collection, of which I have presented only a small part, deserves a stop for anyone interested in modern art, not to mention the outstanding collection of pre-Columbian and Western art housed here. On your next trip to ski or see the Broncos, take a little time and visit the Denver Art Museum.
Denver Art Museum: http://www.denverartmuseum.org
Deborah Butterfield: http://www.mmoca.org/mmocacollects/artists/deborah-butterfield
Ossip Zadkine: http://www.zadkine.com
John Nieto: http://www.nietofineart.com
Robert Henri: http://www.roberthenripaintings.com
Willard Nash: http://www.willardnashpaintings.com
Marsdon Hartley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsden_Hartley
Raymond Jonson: http://www.owingsgallery.com/artists/raymond-jonson/
Victor Higgins: http://www.victorhiggins.com
W Herbert Dunton: http://www.dunton.org/whd_exhibit/
Frank Mechau: http://www.frankmechau.com/biography