Paperwork

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Paperwork


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


As the old saying goes, "Ya gotta start somewhere."

In 1904, John W. Beatty, who served as Carnegie Museum of Art's first director from 1896-1922, began to assemble the first of what was to become the museum's Works on Paper collection.

His first purchase was "Figures on the Coast" (1883) by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). A charcoal drawing about half the size of a piece of typing paper, it was the perfect complement to "The Wreck," Homer's famous painting from 1896 that won the Chronological Medal and a purchase prize of $5,000 in the first ever Carnegie International (1866), thus becoming the first piece in the museum's permanent collection.

In the nearly two decades that followed, Beatty was the driving force behind the acquisition of about 200 drawings and watercolors by an array of prominent American artists of the period, many of whom, like Homer, where close personal friends.

Seventy-five drawings by Homer and his contemporaries are on display in "Masters of American Drawings and Watercolors, Foundations of the Collection, 1904-1922" in the museum's Works on Paper Gallery.

"The artists in the show represent people who were friends with Beatty, people who were heavy players in the contemporary art world of that time, and quite a few of which were represented a lot in the early internationals, either as jurors, advisers or participating artists," says Amanda Zehnder, Carnegie Museum of Art assistant curator of fine arts and curator of the exhibition.

"By and large, these are virtuoso works," Zehnder says. "Some of them are really amazing. The hand of the artist -- his or her thought processes -- really come through."

Part of the reason, Zehnder says, is that Beatty was an artist. He understood the importance of drawing, not only as the foundation of visual art, but that it allowed direct and immediate access to the mind of the artist.

"Beatty was a painter and printmaker mostly and he had a real strong interest in the concept of drawing as a way to access an artist's thought process," Zehnder says.

Beatty wrote several pamphlets and books on the subject. Some are included in the exhibition, along with a museum guestbook that dates from 1903-1938. The guestbook is on display, open to the Friday, April 10, 1914 -- bearing the signatures of several visiting artists, the most prominent of whom was Robert Henri.

Although the show does not contain anything by Henri, it does contain several more works by Homer. Among them two significant watercolors, "A Wreck Near Gloucester" (1880) and "Watching from the Cliffs" (1892), which are both subtle, controlled coastal scenes painted during times spent in a New England fishing village.

"He was somebody who Beatty clearly respected a lot," Zehnder says of Homer.

Another artist that Beatty had a tremendous amount of respect for was Childe Hassam (1859-1935). …

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