Though the MFAH has acquired pre-1945 American art since its inception, the department of American painting and sculpture was not founded until 1995. Since then, the collection has grown exponentially, and the first permanent spaces to showcase these works opened to the public in 2000. The evolving American art galleries in the Audrey Jones Beck building present a lively overview of the story of art in the United States from the 19th and early 20th centuries, picking up where the Bayou Bend Collection leaves off, while offering considerable range and depth of artworks in specific areas.
A particular strength of the American art collection is the small but choice group of landscape paintings in the Hudson River School tradition with major works by Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt. Works by Texas and regional artists such as Thomas Flintoff, Vincent Colyer, Hermann Lungkwitz, and Julius Stockfleth offer local variants of larger artistic trends. Mid-19th-century American art is also well represented by examples of genre scenes by Charles Deas and Eastman Johnson, as well as by still-life paintings, particularly an exceptional work by Severin Roesen. Key works of the late 19th century, by such artists as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Willard Metcalf, Willam Merritt Chase, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, and Frederic Remington, show the range and vitality of American art as it continued to grow in stature on the world stage.
The holdings in 20th-century American art include important paintings by Robert Henri and George Bellows, and the earliest abstract movement in American art—Synchomism—is represented in key works by Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Morgan Russell, and Patrick Henry Bruce. Another area of strength is the work of E. Martin Hennings and Walter Ufer, members of the Taos Society Artists, many of whom visited Houston to expand on their largely Chicago clientele. Artists of the Alfred Stieglitz group are also included, such as Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, Elsie Driggs, and Helen Torr, as well as the work of Stuart Davis. The American art collection includes 1930s paintings of the social scene; in particular, the work of Thomas Hart Benton and his student Jackson Pollock is especially strong. The collection concludes with the early work of the Abstract Expressionists.
Sculpture, another area of activity and interest, features Elie Nadelman’s Tango. Other highlights include Neoclassical marbles by Hiram Powers and William Henry Rinehart, Beaux Arts bronzes by Frederick MacMonnies, early welded bronzes by David Smith, and a limestone sculpture by self-taught artist William Edmondson.
In the 1920s, Texas philanthropist William C. Hogg assembled a collection of artworks by Frederic S. Remington (1861–1909) that Hogg's sister, Ima Hogg, gave to the MFAH in 1943. Will’s early crusade to collect the work of the artist helped revive national interest in Remington’s art, and today the museum’s collection of artworks by Remington is internationally recognized.
As an illustrator, painter, sculptor, and writer, Remington created a popular image of the American West as a heroic battleground for the United States’ westward expansion. His knowledge of the West grew from his frequent trips there to make sketches, take photographs, and buy the artifacts of Native American cultures and of Western frontier life. Back in his studio near New York City, he chronicled Native American cultures and created images that helped popularize the cowboy as a national folk hero, and the West itself as a sacred place in national mythology.
In 1985, Mr. and Mrs. David R. Wintermann gave more than 50 American paintings that date from 1880 to 1925 to the MFAH, helping to fill important gaps in the museum’s collection.
The Wintermann gift was a significant moment in MFAH history, signaling the museum’s growing interest in establishing a more permanent presence for pre-1945 American art.
Since its founding in 1995, the museum’s department of American painting and sculpture has organized 16 exhibitions and coordinated 14 others whose subject matter range from John James Audubon to John Singer Sargent. Highlights include John Singleton Copley in England (1995–96), which joined together with the traveling exhibition John Singleton Copley in America (1995–96) to bring together Copley’s transatlantic paintings for the first time in more than 30 years. The Modern West: American Landscapes, 1890–1945 (2006) offered a groundbreaking examination of the relationship between Modernism and the western landscape itself through painting and photography. For more information on the museum’s past exhibitions of American art, click below.
Members of American Art and Wine visit some of Houston’s private collections of American art while enjoying fine wines selected to match the artworks on view. Other activities include exclusive, behind-the-scenes tours of major exhibitions of American art, and events at which experts talk about trends in the wine business.