Each week, we bring you the backstory of work featured in our collection, written by a member of our curatorial team.
The Herwigs, Edouard Antonin Vysekal, 1928
by Sara Robertson, Senior Curator
This past week was exciting for an art enthusiast like myself. I had the great pleasure of making our first (with more to come) LACMA gallery public on Meural. The introduction of LACMA art into our permanent collection was a moment that we (the content curation team) have been looking forward to for awhile. In fact, the works now featured in our LACMA: 20th Century Highlights gallery, are exactly what we have been missing in our ever-growing collection of art—the Americans! While our existing collection is impressive in terms of the centuries it spans, and the countries and artists across the world that are represented, we have been missing a vital chunk of art history from our own home country (Meural’s home that is, as we have a team of people, much like our collection, from all over the world). Thankfully, LACMA’s collection of American art is one of the oldest in the museum, and through the years has grown considerably into one of the finest collections of American art, ranging from the colonial period to the first half of the 20th century. Coincidence? I think not!
California Poppy Field, Granville Redmond, c. 1926
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art began its collection of American art in the year 1916, a century ago exactly, and has continued to grow into one of the finest collections of American art dating from the colonial period to the mid 20th century. Its first acquisition, and no doubt remains one of its finest, is the work Cliff Dwellers by Ohio native George Bellows—which just so happens to be in our gallery. Coincidentally, and rather appropriately (since our headquarters is in the Big Apple), Cliff Dwellers is a scene of New York in 1913. “In Cliff Dwellers, George Bellows captures the colorful crowd on New York City's Lower East Side, on what appears to be a hot summer day. People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes. Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic. In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street.” (LACMA site) The piece shows a moment in time when the population of the city grew from 1.5 million to five million, due largely to immigration, and the view Bellows painted represents the influx of people rather well with the streets covered in the bustle of a new New York.
Avenue of the Allies: Brazil & Belgium, F. Childe Hassam, 1919
Like most of the American artists represented at LACMA, and those exhibited in our new gallery, Bellows’s subject matter of choice was that of America and the ever diverse, eclectic, and growing Americans themselves. Like the sundry of people Bellows painted in his Cliff Dwellers, the list of other American artists included in this collection is just as diverse: Edouard Antonin Vysekal immigrated to America from Czechoslovakia when he was seventeen, F. Childe Hassam was born in the U.S. and descended from a very old New England family line, and Lilla Cabot Perry was a native Bostonian who learned her skills from the great Claude Monet in her travels to Giverny.
It is no wonder that Meural is happy to include a collection that, like itself, is made up of people from many different places who call this melting pot home.
A cup of tea, Lilla Cabot Perry, late 19th century