Connections Across Collections: Motherhood

Motherhood is an art! We’re celebrating Mother’s Day by spotlighting artworks and objects in our collection that illustrate the theme of motherly love and strength. Read below to find out about what our curators from different departments selected.

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas

Curator Michelle Rich selected this 100 BCE–250 CE ceramic sculpture made by the people of Jalisco. The object depicts the bond between a mother nursing her infant child.

Woman nursing child, 100 BCE–250 CE, Jalisco peoples, ceramic, paint, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, The Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus Collection of Fertility Figures, 1982.387.FA

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art

In this drawing, Guillermo Meza draws a reddish line from the mother’s head and down her spine. The same color as the blanket that holds the child on her back, together they evoke the physical ties that bind mother and child together.

Guillermo Meza, Mother and Child, 1953, crayon and colored chalk, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Richard K. Weil, 1959.27

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art

Mary Cassatt is known for images of a mother and child that also recall Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child. Typically, her models were neighbors rather than family. This is one of the last works she devoted to this theme.

Mary Cassatt, Sleepy Baby, c. 1910, pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1952.38.M

The Many Lives of a Still Life

When you walk past a painting in a museum, do you ever wonder what the back side looks like?

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, 1879–80, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.10
Back side of the frame of Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange

For curators and researchers, the verso, or B-side, of a painting can be a mine of information about its past life. Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange, currently featured in the Reves Spotlight rotation gallery on the DMA’s third level, is a case in point: the back of the frame was once filled with stamps and labels applied over many years by the painting’s former owners and their shippers. Those historical records have subsequently been transferred to a backing board to guarantee their preservation and that of the precious information they carry. As a result, this backing board is now reminiscent of an avid traveler’s passport stamp page.

Backing board for Still Life with Carafe, Milk Can, Bowl, and Orange

In the top right, a rectangular piece of cardboard reads “about 1880-2 / Venturi” in faint handwritten pencil. This Italian art historian was the author of the first catalogue raisonné of Cézanne’s works, which is perhaps why his dating of this painting was carefully recorded.

Even before arriving in the US, Cézanne’s Still Life had traveled internationally. From Paris, where the artist likely sold it to a dealer, it entered a private collection in Amsterdam before returning to the French capital in the early 1920s, where it was acquired by Marius de Zaya, an artist and dealer based in New York City who offered it in his newly founded gallery among “drawings, paintings and sculptures of the very best artists of the modern movement.”[1] There, a founder of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Lillie P. Bliss, purchased it, and upon her death she bequeathed it to that institution, which eventually deaccessioned the work in 1944.

As recorded by two large labels on the left side of the panel, at MoMA the painting was known as The Water Can, based on the metal vessel at its center. In 1985 the enigmatic nature of that element was discussed in a letter exchange between then DMA director Steven Nash and Columbia University professor Theodore Reff, who concluded: “The picture is quite wonderful, charming, fresh, simple, almost naïve, and will grace your collections, regardless of the identity of the objects in it.”[2]

Shortly after Wendy and Emery Reves acquired it in 1955, the picture was referred to as simply Nature Morte (still life) or Nature Morte en bleu (still life in blue) in two French exhibitions that were likely the occasion in which the painting received the two transportation labels seen on the right side of the backing board. After entering the DMA’s collection in 1985, the painting’s current title was first formulated in 1998 and slightly revised in 2003 (the term “coffee” referring to the bowl was dropped) in an effort to describe the subject matter as accurately as possible. While we must agree with Reff that the charm of this picture remains unchanged no matter what we call it, by recording the painting’s previous titles and where it traveled, these labels have been essential to the work of art historians to reconstruct the history of the ownership, exhibition, criticism, and scholarship of this object over its 140-plus years of existence.

Stop by to see this work in the Reves Spotlight rotation gallery now through September 27 and admire more still lifes at the DMA in an exhibition focusing on the work of Cubist painter Juan Gris, an avid admirer of Paul Cézanne. In Cubism in Color: The Still Lifes of Juan Gris, the labels and inscriptions on the back of Guitar and Pipe are on full display.

Gloria de Liberali is the Dedo and Barron Kidd McDermott Intern Fellow for European Art at the DMA.


[1] John Rewald, The Paintings of Paul Cézanne. A Catalogue Raisonné (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 1:288.

[2] Their correspondence is preserved in the painting’s object file at the DMA.

The Life and Work of Kazuya Sakai

To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting a unique Latin American artist of Asian descent whose painting we are proud to welcome into the DMA’s collection this spring: Kazuya Sakai.

Kazuya Sakai (1927-2001) was an artist, as well as a translator, professor, magazine editor, critic, and jazz and new music expert. His impressive biography spans three continents. He was born in Buenos Aires and immigrated to Japan as a child, where he completed his formal education. As a young adult, he returned to Argentina and began a long career that would take him to New York City, Mexico City, Austin, San Antonio, and, finally, Dallas. 

Sakai was recognized among the leading Latin American abstract artists of his time, and his work often drew upon both contemporary trends and Japanese artistic traditions. The brushstrokes in early gestural paintings from his time in Argentina make allusions to Japanese calligraphy. The undulating bands seen in his colorful geometric paintings that he started in the 1970s in Mexico were partially inspired by the bold colors and striking patterns of 17th century Japanese Rinpa artist Ogata Kōrin. His Genroku series of works, created after he moved to Texas, was named after the culturally rich period of Japanese history from 1688 to 1704.

This September, the DMA presents Expressive Abstractions, an exhibition of works from our own collection that reexamines the history of abstract art during the mid-20th century, and the significant innovations of Black, East Asian, Latin American, and women artists. Sakai’s painting Integrales II (Edgard Varèse) (1979), acquired by the DMA this spring, will be featured in the exhibition.

Kazuya Sakai, Integrales II (Edgard Varèse), 1979, acrylic on canvas. Copyright Kazuya Sakai’s estate, courtesy of Galería Vasari, Buenos Aires
Kazuya Sakai, The University of Texas at Dallas Office of Communications Collections

Sakai is an important figure to include in this history of postwar abstraction, and even more so for us given his connections to Texas and Dallas. He was an influential figure in Argentina, which he represented at the São Paulo Biennial in 1961 and at the Venice Biennale in 1962. He also participated in the seminal DMA exhibition, South American Art Today, in 1959. After a short stint in New York, he lived for more than a decade in Mexico, where he was an acclaimed artist of geometric abstraction. But his time in the U.S. has not received quite as much attention, although he spent the final two decades of his life here in Texas. He was selected to be a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 1976; in fall 1977 he became a visiting professor at UT San Antonio; and in 1980 he was hired as a permanent professor at UT Dallas, where he taught until he retired in 1996. In addition to mentoring countless students, Sakai had solo exhibitions at the Blanton Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum in the 1970s, as well as co-organized the show 12 Latin American Artists Today and its related influential symposium, “Speak Out! Charla! Bate-Papo!” at the Blanton.

South American Art Today, 1959, Dallas Museum of Art

The DMA is thrilled to have Kazuya Sakai represented in our collection. His rich artistic career is an excellent example of the layered stories about diasporas and international cultural exchange we strive to tell, and the multicultural histories we celebrate about our home city and its artists.

Dr. Vivian Li, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art
Lillian Michel, Media and Communications Specialist

“Concentrations” at Forty

The DMA’s Concentrations exhibition series has been a distinguished project-based platform primarily for emerging artists, exhibiting the artist’s first museum solo show or debut of a recent body of work. Renowned artists such as Kiki Smith (Concentrations 20, 1989), Mariko Mori (Concentrations 30, 1997), Charline von Heyl (Concentrations 48, 2005-2006), and Slavs and Tatars (Concentrations 57, 2014) had their first U.S. museum solo shows through Concentrations. Established in 1981 to replace the Texas Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture annual juried competition, Concentrations was an ambitious new contemporary art program started when the DMA moved from Fair Park to its downtown location. Originally planned to run for five years when it launched in 1981, Concentrations this year celebrates its 40th year anniversary and has presented 63 artists. Over its four decades, the series mirrors the development of the museum’s contemporary art program and its commitment to living artists.

Contemporary art at the DMA began to seriously develop in the 1970s under its first curator Robert Murdoch, and Concentrations functioned as the main exhibition program for it. In the series’ first decade more than twenty Concentrations exhibitions, about one-third of the total series’ history, were organized by then-curator Sue Graze. Texas artists, especially those in DFW, were prominently featured in about half of the first ten years of Concentrations shows, including Nic Nicosia (Concentrations 13, 1986), Bert Long (Concentrations 18, 1988), and Celia Álvarez Muñoz (Concentrations 26, 1991).

Encounters 5: Damien Hirst and Tracy Hicks, 1994

After its first ten years, Concentrations was temporarily replaced from 1992 to 1995 with Encounters. Structured as two one-person shows of a Texas-based artist and a national or international based one, it was designed as its press release read to solve the “closed circuit art world” in Texas. The dialogue between the accumulative practices of Damien Hirst and Tracy Hicks (Encounters 5, 1994) was one memorable juxtaposition. When Concentrations resumed in 1996, it shifted to presenting national and international artists due to the increased decentralization of the art world and a rapid expansion of contemporary art programming at the DMA in the late 1990s and 2000s. Since 2005, Concentrations has introduced international artists such as Scotland-based installation artist Jim Lambie (Concentrations 47, 2005), Puerto Rico-based multimedia artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Concentrations 50, 2007), and South Korea-based installation artist Chosil Kil (Concentrations 58, 2015).

Concentrations 58: Chosil Kil, 2015

Most importantly, Concentrations afforded artists recognition and visibility at a major museum during a pivotal moment in their career. For half of the artists in Concentrations’ history, their show at the DMA marked their first U.S. museum solo exhibition. An artist’s Concentrations show also often gave them exposure to a wider audience, such as for Maki Tamura (Concentrations 40, 2002). After seeing her show, a board member of the Seattle Art Museum recommended her to their museum’s curator, who then invited Tamura to create an installation in Seattle. Even exhibition elements, such as the brochure publication that accompanied each Concentrations show, was especially valuable to young artists since not much writing may yet exist about their work. Annette Lawrence (Concentrations 36, 2000), appreciated the beautiful essay then-DMA curator Charlie Wylie wrote for her show showcasing her new string installations, and included it for a fellowship application that she eventually won.

Concentrations 36: Annette Lawrence, 2000

With the opening of Concentrations 63: Julian Charrière, Towards No Earthly Pole this month, the series remains a strong cornerstone of the contemporary art program at the DMA. We look forward to continuing to present and support the work of the brightest artists of our times.

Vivian Li is the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA

Connections Across Collections: Art and Nature

We’re celebrating Earth Month with art from across our collections that connects to the natural world. Read below to find out about the artworks and objects our curators selected.

Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art
In this landscape painted near Waxahachie, Florence McClung emphasizes the rounded forms of the earth, juxtaposing them against the vertical shocks of wheat. She investigates the geometry of the cultivated fields while also emphasizing the richness and bounty of nature.

Florence E. McClung, Squaw Creek Valley, 1937, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Florence E. McClung, 1985.12

Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas
This Olmec tablet portrays the cosmos arranged in three dimensions. Three dots signify the place of creation and anchor a stepped mountain-pyramid to the earthly realm. Above this, a World Tree reaches to a scaffold structure marked by “crossed bands” associated with the sky.

Tablet with incised symbols, 900–500 BCE, Olmec peoples, greenstone and red pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association purchase, 1968.33
Drawings courtesy of Dr. F. Kent Reilly, Texas State University.

Sarah Schleuning, Interim Chief Curator and The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design
Faye Toogood explores pure geometric form by using cobb, a material consisting of clay, sand, straw, water, and earth as her media. By focusing on design and material expressiveness rather than functionality, this work pushes into the realm of pure sculpture.

Faye Toogood, Cup/Earth, 2016, cobb composite (acrylic polymer and natural materials), Dallas Museum of Art, Discretionary Decorative Arts Fund, 2018.34.2

Novelist Finds Inspiration in Women’s History

In anticipation of an upcoming Arts & Letters Live event with author Kaitlyn Greenidge, I had the opportunity to chat with her recently about her new novel Libertie. Deemed one of the most-anticipated books of 2021 and the May pick for Roxane Gay’s Book Club, Libertie is a fictionalized account rooted in women’s history.

In the novel, Libertie Sampson, a young Black woman in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, feels confined by her mother’s stringent vision for her future. Libertie is to go to medical school and practice alongside her mother. However, the independent-minded protagonist finds herself being drawn more to the arts than science and longs for adventure.

Greenidge told me how she got the idea for the character while running the oral history program at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, which preserves one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America. There, Greenidge interviewed Ellen Holly, a TV soap actress who shared stories of her family heritage which included Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward (1847–1918), Brooklyn’s first Black woman physician, and the third Black physician in the U.S. Dr. Steward’s renown as a doctor and founder of medical clinics and her work for suffrage and civil rights were not the only thing that caught Greenidge’s attention. She learned from the oral history that Dr. Steward traveled to Haiti to rescue her daughter from a failed marriage. And thus the character of Libertie was born.

Like the historical figure on which she is based, Libertie follows her husband to Haiti. Greenidge found inspiration in Hattian art. “I loved the blending of history and current events into art, and how people use fine arts to document history,” she told me.

Renée Stout’s contemporary work is a visual idea and interpretation of self as a figure of empowerment. A mesh collar holds medicine bags while a stamp, dried flowers, and a picture of a young Black girl are placed in the glass-covered “medicine pouch” of the torso.

image: Renée Stout, Fetish #2, 1988, mixed media (plaster body cast), Dallas Museum of Art, Metropolitan Life Foundation Purchase Grant, 1989.27, ©Renée Stout, Washington, D.C

She also conducted meticulous research on a number of topics including homeopathy. In Greenidge’s novel several pivotal moments occur in Dr. Sampson’s (the fictional version of Dr. Steward) home garden, which flourishes with medicinal plants. John Gerad’s work (below) mirrors the bountiful uses of plants as medicine. Throughout the novel, Greenidge intertwines the lives of the characters and the purpose and magic of plants.

Artist unknown, Printed Page 1217 from “The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes” by John Gerard, 1633 (1st edition was 1597), woodcut with English text, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. A.E. Zonne, 1960.191

Dr. Steward’s passion for healing extended beyond the walls of the hospital into the social, intellectual and artistic health of her community as she fostered racial inclusion, women’s rights, and local art exhibits. “What’s interesting about the period of Reconstruction, is that you have Black people creating communities whole scale from scratch,” Greenidge told me, “and what was really striking to me was how revolutionary their ideas of care were.”

Greenidge described her fascination upon discovering that African American newspapers serving newly freed Black people dedicated half of their space to news and half as a literacy primer. The consideration demonstrated in this—a paper both for those who can and those who are still learning to read—struck Greenidge as genius.

“The novel is really looking at the politics of care, and how communities decide who is worthy or unworthy of care,” Greenidge explained.

Jacob Lawrence, The Visitors, 1959, tempera on gessoed panel, Dallas Museum of Art, General Acquisitions Fund, 1984.174, The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Jacob Lawrence’s The Visitors, above, loved ones offer consolation to the bedridden. The theme of care, as seen here and in Greenidge’s novel, resonates today.

Cristina Carolina Echezarreta is the 2020-2021 McDermott intern for Adult Programs/Arts & Letters Live at the DMA.

Conserving Kahlo

The Dallas Museum of Art was given the opportunity to exhibit a collection of exceptional Frida Kahlo works. In preparation for their display on February 28, 2021, three of the paintings were studied in the paintings conservation studio, including Still Life with Parrot and Flag from 1951, Sun and Life from 1947, and Diego and Frida 1929–1944 from 1944. Using infrared photography, X-radiography, and microscopic examination, novel information was brought to light regarding each work.

Frida Kahlo, Diego and Frida 1929–1944, 1944, oil on Masonite with original painted shell frame, Private Collection, Courtesy Galería Arvil. © 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Frida Kahlo, Sun and Life, 1947, oil on Masonite, Private Collection, Courtesy Galería Arvil. © 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Frida Kahlo, Still Life with Parrot and Flag, 1951, oil on Masonite, Private Collection, Courtesy Galería Arvil. © 2021 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Infrared photography allows conservators to look through surface level paint to the underlying preparatory layers. X-radiography, on the other hand, allows us to visualize compositional changes made in paint. This type of imaging provided a fascinating perspective into Frida Kahlo’s working practice.

In Still Life with Parrot and Flag, an initial planning drawing done in both thin lines and wide ink strokes shows how Kahlo simplified compositional elements in the final painting, especially with regards to shifting the size and shape of the fruits. The most labored part of the underdrawing shows several adjustments made to the parrot’s wing and beak, and changes made to the adjacent mango. The blue lines overlayed onto the visible light photograph represent a tracing made from the IR photograph of the most prominent changes Kahlo made to this initial underdrawing. The underdrawing observed in each painting made clear that Kahlo had a strong vision for the overall composition of each work, regardless of the subtle changes made in the painting process.

Infrared photograph of Still Life with Parrot and Flag
Tracing of drawing lines overlaid onto visible light photograph

IR photography also revealed a small inscription on one of the shells attached to the frame on Diego and Frida. This inscription reads “Recuerdo de Veracruz” and was subsequently covered up by red paint, probably by Frida herself. Frames like this one would have likely been found in the tourist market of Veracruz; here, it is a special hidden detail giving us an intimate glimpse into the past life of the object.

An inscription on one of the shells on the right originally read “Recuerdo de Veracruz”

The X-ray taken of Sun and Life revealed an exciting evolution observed in the painting: although Kahlo’s basic composition was generally set from the underdrawing to the early painting phase, the details evolved significantly in later phases of painting. The plant pods surrounding the sun, for example, largely began closed but opened gradually during the painting process. Another interesting discovery was the fetus-like element directly behind the sun that emerged as Frida finalized the painting, in contrast to the X-ray that reveals a closed pod. The blue lines overlaid onto the visible light image of the painting represent a tracing made from the X-ray and indicate where compositional changes took place during the painting process.

X-radiograph of Sun and Life
Tracing compositional changes observed in x-radiograph

Kahlo’s brushwork is stunning, utilizing a vast array of application techniques and styles to create movement and texture in each work. In Still Life with Parrot and Flag, her use of small rapid, brushstrokes achieves a composition of intricately varied textures and color, while long, sinuous strokes are used predominantly in Sun and Life. Frida and Diego takes a more direct painting technique of highly textured paint applied in short, tiny strokes. It is interesting to note that in two of the paintings, impressions of Frida’s fingerprints are visible in the paint—a subtle hallmark that humanizes the work.

Varied painting techniques shown in close-ups of her works

Artist’s fingerprints in Frida and Diego
Same detail under 10x magnification
Artist’s fingerprints in Still Life with Parrot and Flag

It was a privilege to examine these great works together with Dr. Mark A. Castro and Dr. Agustín Arteaga. I hope you enjoy this special moment to see the works together.

Laura Eva Hartman is the Paintings Conservator at the DMA.

Panamanian Molas: Made For and By Women

This past December, the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation donated the Reverend Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection to the DMA. The collection is composed of some 70 molas: hand-stitched textiles that form part of Guna women’s clothing in the Republic of Panama. The Guna occupy a territory called the Gunayala Comarca (Gunaland Province), formed by hundreds of tiny islands, as well as by the adjacent coastline. This attire was adapted from the ancient practice of women painting their bodies with complex geometric designs, later translated to textiles following the adoption of new fabrics and tools introduced by European settlers. Over the decades, molas have become the single most recognizable material element of Guna cultural identity.

Molas: Two aquatic birds (T44205.43); Terrestrial birds, fish, and mammal (T44205.46); Aquatic bird and fish with spiny dorsal fin (T44205.15), Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation; Man and woman wearing hats, mid-twentieth century, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of The Dozier Foundation, DS.1990.303

The arts in Guna society are strictly gendered, with men engaged in basket weaving and public oratory, reciting poems and stories. Women, including men who identify as women, design and fabricate molas. The molas are created using a complex reverse appliqué process. Two or three pieces of fabric are first basted together and then a design is hand cut into the top layer, with multiple layers of colorful, contrasting fabrics and appliques then sewn between the top and bottom layers. This elaborate technique is intensive, typically taking a maker three to five weeks to complete the 15 by 17-inch textile.

Care is taken to match the thread to the cloth and layer the fabrics in a way that gives the impression of a seamless and uniform composition. Mola designs incorporate elements such as flowers, birds, animals, and mythical creatures, but geometric patterning remains a crucial element.

The mola has deep ties to Guna identity. In 1918 the Panamanian government began a campaign to subjugate and assimilate the Guna, which included banning traditional dress. The Guna resisted, and making and wearing molas became an act of political protest. In 1925 the two parties reached an agreement granting the Guna autonomy to govern their own affairs and sovereignty over their Indigenous identity and culture. To this day, Guna women still produce beautifully executed molas for their own use in clothing, as well as versions for tourist consumption.

Blouse incorporating National Liberal Party mola, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, 1962, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Carolyn Williams Marks, Harriet Williams Peavy, and Suzanne Williams Nash, 2016.68.19

Reverend Isaac V. Pérez, his wife, Alicia, and their daughter, Elva, moved to Panama in 1953 when Reverend Isaac accepted employment with a denomination-affiliated organization. Among his responsibilities was working with local Guna to create a new church. On one of his first visits to the islands, he was gifted a mola as a gesture of friendship. Alicia and Elva were fascinated by the complex and unusual qualities of the design, heightened by its vibrant colors.

Mola: Ground cuckoo, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, T44205.25

The Pérezes remained in Panama for 22 years and amassed a stunning collection of molas. The family treasured them for their creativity, design, and imagery—but even more so as a reminder of the graciousness of the Guna people. Their collection joins 10 molas already stewarded by the DMA, and together they offer a testament to the creativity and resilience of the Guna people, and the critical role of women in preserving and adapting Guna culture.

Mola: Two terrestrial birds perched in trees, Guna people, Gunayala Comarca, Panama, mid-20th century, cotton, Dallas Museum of Art, The Isaac V. and Alicia C. Pérez Mola Collection, gift of The Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation, T44205.16

Dr. Mark A. Castro, The Jorge Baldor Curator of Latin American Art
Dr. Michelle Rich, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas
Alyssa Wood, Curatorial Assistant

Gertrude Stein and Juan Gris: A Close Connection

Photograph of Gertrude Stein in her salon, writing, 1920, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas Papers. American Literature Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

This is the history of Juan Gris.
—Gertrude Stein[1]

After the Salon des Indépendants in 1920, Juan Gris wrote a letter to Gertrude Stein, putting an end to more than half a decade of silence between them:

I am greatly flattered by what you say about my contribution at the Indépendants, more especially as you have a great understanding of painting.[2]

Stein was an American novelist, born in 1874 into an affluent upper-middle-class Jewish family. She studied psychology and medicine before moving to Paris in 1904. There she became one of the foremost connoisseurs of modern art and an early champion of Cubism. She was especially close to Picasso, and it is likely that she met Gris sometime in 1910 through their mutual friend; however, she did not start collecting Gris’s work until 1914, when she bought the first painting from the artist’s gallerist, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler.

Gertrude Stein was particularly interested in papier collé works by Gris.
Image: Juan Gris, The Lamp, 1914, pasted paper, gouache, and conté crayon on canvas, Private collection

Gris and Stein seem to have been on friendly terms up until World War I. She always tried to support her artists while at the same time adding works to her impressive collection. When the war broke out in August 1914, and Gris’s German gallerist had to leave France, the artist found himself without income. Upon Picasso’s appeal, Stein tried to help Gris out by setting up an opportunity for him to exhibit in New York in the gallery of Michael Brenner. Additionally, she and Brenner offered monetary support in exchange for works. Kahnweiler, who thought the war would be a short affair, prohibited this deal and Gris had to decline the offer. Stein broke off contact with the artist until her visit to the Salon in 1920.

Their friendship resumed, grew stronger, and became more intimate. Gris valued Stein’s feedback, and he trusted her taste in and opinions on art. They visited each other frequently and were known to engage in deep and intellectual conversations. She appreciated the artist especially for the exactitude of his Cubism and his intricate compositions. When Gris’s sales and self-esteem were low, Stein tirelessly promoted his work by sending journalists to his studio, publishing texts about him, and collecting his works. In 1926 they collaborated on a project, with Gris contributing four lithographs to Stein’s publication A Book Concluding with as a Wife Has a Cow: A Love Story.

A sign of their close relationship, she was the only one to call him “Juan,” emphasizing his Spanish heritage, while he referred to himself as “Jean,” being enamored with everything French.

Most of Gris’s works in Stein’s collection are from the 1920s.
Image: Juan Gris, The Electric Lamp, 1925, oil on canvas, Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle. Gift of Louise and Michel Leiris, 1984. On deposit at Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de la Ville de Strasbourg since 1999

When Gris died in May 1927, Stein was heartbroken. Two months later, she published a personal epitaph in the magazine Transition. In her Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Stein would later acknowledge Gris’s importance to Cubism by elevating him to the same level as Picasso, where in her eyes he belonged:

[T]he only real cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and exaltation.[3]

Christine Burger is the Research Assistant for European Art at the DMA.


[1] Gertrude Stein, The Life of Juan Gris: The Life and Death of Juan Gris, in: In Transition: A Paris Anthology: Writing and Art from Transition Magazine 1927-30. New York, 1990,195.
[2] Gris to Stein, February 2, 1920, letter XCI, in Douglas Cooper, trans. and ed., Letters of Juan Gris [1913-1927]. Collected by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, London, 1956, 76.
[3] Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 2020, 110.

Celebrating Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1907 by Frederick Gutekunst (1831–1917)

This month the DMA celebrates the acclaimed African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859–1937). Tanner’s intimate painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures is one of the cornerstones of our American collection. He rendered the lush, densely painted surface using a restricted palette predominated by shades of cool, luminous blue. The color became so synonymous with him that it earned the nickname “Tanner-blue.”

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, 1908, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Deaccession Funds, 1986.9

The artist’s wife, Jessie Olssen, an American opera singer living in Paris when they met, and their young son, Jesse, often served as his models. Two existing photographs (figs. 1 & 2) confirm they posed for him as he considered different arrangements for the DMA’s painting, and one (fig. 1) was the template. That they posed for this painting makes it simultaneously a meditative religious scene and a tender family portrait.

Fig. 1: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12359, public domain
Fig. 2: Jessie Olssen Tanner and Jesse Ossawa Tanner posing for Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, not after 1910. Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, 1860s–1978. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Digital ID: 12360, public domain

Tanner seems to have been so enamored with the composition that three years later he rendered a similar version, Christ Learning to Read. He made slight changes to the poses of Christ and Mary and experimented with an impressionistic application of a high-keyed pastel color palette to render light. Further, the painting’s structural frame and inner arcing spandrel reflect the influence of buildings he most likely saw during his many trips to Morocco.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, Christ Learning to Read, about 1911, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Association of Fine Arts, 1941.16, photo credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

Tanner’s decision to be a religious painter was deeply rooted in his family background. His father, Benjamin Tucker Tanner (1835–1923), was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the artist’s childhood home was a well-known salon of Black culture in Philadelphia. Nevertheless, it is not surprising that his path to a successful career was filled with many obstacles. While he found studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with Thomas Eakins intellectually fulfilling, the extreme racism he experienced from classmates was intolerable. Acknowledging that he “could not fight prejudice and paint at the same time,” Tanner left Philadelphia, briefly set up a photography studio in Georgia, and eventually lived out his life in Paris as an American expatriate. The city was culturally, socially, and artistically welcoming, while also providing him with the freedom and camaraderie unavailable to him in his segregated homeland. In Paris, the shy, serious-minded artist flourished and prospered. After a trip to Palestine, Tanner turned his focus toward painting biblical scenes and rarely strayed from this theme for the rest of his life.

Both the Dallas and Des Moines paintings, along with the two photographs discussed here, are emblematic of Tanner’s devotion to his faith and career, and all of them serve as affectionate double portraits in tribute to his wife and son. The Dallas Museum of Art is proud to display Christ and His Mother Studying the Scriptures, which is a masterpiece by this admired and accomplished American artist, in our galleries. We are always honored to celebrate Tanner’s life, legacy, and contribution to the canon of American art, and we are most especially pleased to do so during Black History Month.

Martha MacLeod is the Senior Curatorial Administrator and Curatorial Assistant for Decorative Arts and Design, Latin American Art, and American Art at the DMA.


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