Recent exhibits at the Kimbell Art Museum have included works from the Musée d’Orsay, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and private collections around the country. The Kimbell’s latest hails from closer to home. Much closer.
The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass is a group of 37 paintings and sculptures collected by the matriarch and patriarch of the influential Bass family.
Some of the names –– Chagall, Matisse, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh –– are familiar to the museum. Many others, including Rothko, Poliakoff, and Riopelle, are typically found across the street.
“Usually, we leave those to our friends at the Modern” Art Museum of Fort Worth, Kimbell director Eric Lee said.
But leaving out all 17 of the 20th-century pieces selected wouldn’t have left much of an exhibit.
And some of the “new” works represent high points of the show. One of the highest is Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle’s 1958 painting “Composition,” a Pollock-esque riot of vibrant colors.
The unusual, eclectic collection –– spanning five decades, from Impressionism to the radical ’50s –– was once displayed in the Basses’ Westside home and garden.
“The collection grew with no design other than a love of art that gave them pleasure, usually with strong and happy colors,” says son Sid R. Bass in the catalog. A collection “born with enthusiasm became a lifetime of pleasure and joy.”
The piece that may best sum up that quote is Alexander Calder’s whimsical “Seven Black, Red and Blue.” One of the American sculptor’s trademark mobiles, it features large circles of vivid blue and red resting on a happy, fiery orange-yellow background amid abstract black shapes.
The collection began in 1961, when the Basses acquired “Composition” and Russian artist Serge Poliakoff’s “Abstract Composition” on a trip to Europe.
The pieces were less than a decade old, and the artists were barely known outside Europe. Lee calls the choices “daring.”
Two years later, the family bought Raoul Dufy’s “The Deauville Harbor,” and while nobody’s talking numbers, the bill for the bright scene full of strong and happy colors was reportedly steep enough to make Perry ponder the acquisition over several trips to the gallery where it hung.
The Dufy was one of several locally owned paintings used in November 1963 to decorate the suite at the Fort Worth Hotel where President John and First Lady Jackie Kennedy stayed during their fateful North Texas stop.
The nautical themes would continue with the acquisitions of Henri Matisse’s wistful “The Regattas in Nice” and “The Sea at Agay” by Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumen, a contemporary of Vincent van Gogh. The Basses also purchased two van Goghs “of very good quality,” Lee said. He painted “Street in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer” in 1888, right before another one of his frequent bouts of depression and anxiety led him to hospitalize himself. He painted “Enclosed Field with a Ploughman” after his year-long self-imposed institutionalization. The accompanying text is heartbreaking. Van Gogh wrote to his brother that he finally felt like working again and had started painting what he saw outside the asylum window. The artist would commit suicide a year later.
Perry was Sid Richardson’s nephew, and Richardson’s love of Western art and sculpture must have rubbed off on the nascent collector. Fredric Remington’s “Coming through the Rye” looks as if it had galloped over from the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. The bronze of four cowboys on rearing, racing horses with reins flying is a study in kinetic motion. Remington aided the illusion of motion by attaching only six of the horses’ hooves to the sculpture’s base.
There’s one exhibition piece that didn’t hang in the Basses’ home. Fort Worth painter Scott Gentling’s watercolor portrait of them was usually seen at Bass Performance Hall. Painted in 1998 (the year the hall opened), the piece shows the Basses in their home, standing in front of Mark Rothko’s “Untitled (Orange and Red).” Perry is wearing a blue suit with a multicolored, abstract-expressionist-patterned tie, and Nancy is resplendent in red. In a mash-up of genres, the sober-looking American Gothic-style couple in strong, happy colors stands in front of a work by one of America’s most significant abstract painters, painted by one of Fort Worth’s most significant artists.
[box_info]The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
Thru May 24 at the Piano Pavilion, Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. Free. 817-332-8451.[/box_info]