Posts Tagged 'Dallas Museum of Art'

DMA by Design

January always marks a new year and new possibilities, and at this time almost 40 years ago, the DMA and the citizens of Dallas were looking forward to a brand-new museum and watching it grow from the ground up.

The site for the new museum, chosen in 1977, was in area north of the Central Business District, where it would serve as the anchor of a new Arts District for the city. This location had once been home to grand mansions facing Ross Avenue at the turn of the 20th century, but by the 1930s and 1940s the area was dominated by car dealerships, tire and auto repair shops, and small machine shops.  

Ross Avenue at Harwood Street, circa 1925. Photo from Park Cities: A Photohistory by Diane Galloway, page 51

The design for the new museum building by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes was created in 1979. Barnes’s plan included a central concourse to connect museum functions, terraced galleries with internal courtyards and skylights for natural light, vaulted space for contemporary art, a sculpture garden, and a quiet continuous background that lets the artworks shine. 

Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original design for the new Dallas Museum of Art, March 1979. The layout stayed generally the same, but the concourse became straight instead of stepped. 

The site chosen was not empty land, and the structures were still mainly automotive related, especially on the Ross and Harwood sides.

Northwest corner of Ross and Harwood, the current location of the DMA, looking north along Harwood Street with Ross Avenue in the foreground.

The demolition of the existing structures began in September 1980, but in keeping with the January theme, the following image is from January 29, 1981.

J.W. Bateson Construction, Paula Lawrence photographer; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

Construction in January 1982:

J.W. Bateson Construction, Photos by Mel Armand Assoc; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

This above photo is the back of the Museum and Barrel Vault from St. Paul Street, looking southeast. The First United Methodist Church of Dallas can be seen in the background. 

And circa January 1983—there weren’t process photos from January, so the interior view is from December 1982, and the aerial view is from February 1983:

J.W. Bateson Construction, photos by L.M. Dale; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

This staircase is in the center of the concourse; the first doorway on the left goes to Museum offices; the second doorway in the top center of the image leads to what is now the Arts of the Pacific on Level 3. The windows in the background are where the Hamon building now stands.

J.W. Bateson Construction, photos by L.M. Dale; DMA Archives, New Museum Demolition and Construction Progress Photographs

In this aerial view, the Sculpture Garden is still under construction on the left side of the image, and construction on the Reves and Decorative Arts galleries has not yet begun. And if you look really closely, you can see Woodall Rodgers Freeway in the top center, which was still a few months away from completion.

The building was completed and on January 29, 1984 the new DMA opened!

North façade—This side was covered by the Hamon Building in 1993; but the stone-carved “Dallas Museum of Art” can still be seen on the 4th Floor, at the top of the stairs from the Concourse.
South entrance on Ross Plaza
Ceremonial Entrance at Harwood and Flora streets

I am looking forward to what the coming year and the future brings for the DMA.

Hillary Bober is the Archivist at the DMA.

Eat Your Art Out: Fabulous Focaccia

Hungry for some art? Get creative in your kitchen! Master the art of making beautiful focaccia bread inspired by works in our collection. We recommend Samin Nosrat’s recipe for focaccia, which you can find here. Remember to plan ahead! This bread requires up to 14 hours to proof before baking.

Tips for making your focaccia:

  • When activating yeast, make sure water is lukewarm (between 105°–115°F).
  • After adding the brine, let it soak for at least 5 minutes before adding herbs and vegetables on top of the focaccia.
  • When creating your design, keep in mind that most vegetables will shrink during baking.
  • Practice re-creating your image on a piece of wax paper first. When you are happy with your design, transfer it to the focaccia dough just before baking.
Miniature Painting – A White-Eared Bulbul (Pycnonotus Leucogenys) Perched on a Rock Under a Slender Tree, 1671, work on paper, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.775

Food used to re-create the artwork:

  • 2 baby yellow sweet peppers
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 baby purple carrots
  • 1 white radish
  • 1 pink radish
  • Half of a red onion
  • Half of a yellow bell pepper
  • Half a cup pitted green olives
  • Half a cup pitted kalamata olives
  • Scallions
  • Cilantro leaves
Manji Inoue, Amalmon Inaiz XIII, Vase, n.d., glazed porcelain, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Edward Mattil, 2012.28

Food used to re-create the artwork:

  • 6 cherry tomatoes
  • 3 baby yellow carrots
  • 3 baby purple carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 shallot
  • Cilantro leaves
  • Chives
Mughal, Textile Fragment, 18th century, silk and metal embroidery, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.1282

Food used to re-create the artwork:

  • 1 beet, boiled, peeled, thinly sliced; cut with flower cookie cutter
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs
  • Crumbled blue cheese
  • Sunflower kernels for garnish on top of beets
Paul Poiret, Carpet, c. 1930, wool, Dallas Museum of Art, the Patsy Lacy Griffith Collection, bequest of Patsy Lacy Griffith, 2001.203

Food used to re-create the artwork:

  • Red cherry tomatoes
  • Yellow cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • Minced garlic
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Optional: black olives

Highlights of “Pursuit of Beauty”

Museum exhibitions serve different purposes. Some do heavy lifting in the field of new scholarship about unknown or understudied artists or cultures. Others may capitalize on strengths in the museum’s collection and, thereby, present a richer, contextual understanding of an artistic movement. And yet others present to our visitors works by artists that address gaps in our own permanent collection—a role beautifully fulfilled by the present exhibition, Pursuit of Beauty: The May Family Collection. I would like to focus on a few works and what—besides their apparent beauty—makes them special to me.

William Merritt Chase, Weary, c. 1889, oil on panel, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr., 114.2019.17
Gertrude Fiske, Contemplation, before 1916, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr.

Weary (1889), a small interior scene by William Merritt Chase is a quintessential example of the artist’s skills of observation that also provides us a peek into his well-appointed studio in Manhattan. Chase was not striving to make a narrative here. The subject is beauty alone—of a sitter placed within a beautiful setting full of patterns and textures. The large Japanese screen in the background, the plush velvet of the cushion beneath her feet, the sparkle of gilding on the armature of the chair, and the gleam of light on the large vase in the background at right, are all effects that lure and please the eye. A wonderful counterpoint to Chase’s creation is Contemplation (1915) by Gertrude Fiske, an artist trained in Boston. While it too presents a contemplative woman set in an interior, the artist is presenting to us a modern woman for the new age. Using complimentary colors of orange and green to frame the sitter, the crisp striped wallpaper effectively foregrounds her. Fiske further illuminates her with light flooding in from the upper left, which simultaneously bathes her face and torso in yellow that reflects off the material at the right edge.  

Theodore Robinson, Miss Motes and Her Dog Shep in a Boat, 1893, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr.
John Henry Twachtman, Frozen Brook, 1893, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr., 114.2019.12

American Impressionism is underrepresented at the DMA and two works within the May Family Collection created in the exact same year offer comparison of two artists whose means (light & brushwork), achieved different ends. Theodore Robinson’s small canvas of Miss Motes and Her Dog Shep in a Boat (1893) is an oil sketch by the first and most important of the American Impressionists to paint alongside Monet at Giverny between 1886 and 1892. Robinson’s intent was to capture an individual in a fleeting moment and his quick touches of brushwork fix her at a point in time as well as evoking the optical effect of forms blurred in reflection on the dappled surface of the water. In Frozen Brook (1893), John Twachtman also endeavored to capture a particular moment, but his motivation was to capture the atmospheric and emotive effects of a winter’s day. His brushwork is more varied, complex, and labor intensive (daubed, scumbled, and dragged) to conjure the optical effect of heavy, wet snow on the cusp of spring, when all is blanketed in contemplative silence. 

I do hope that you will come to the DMA to explore these five works for yourselves, along with the other twenty-three now on view. 

Sue Canterbury is The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art and Interim Allen and Kelli Questrom Curator of Works on Paper at the DMA.

The Views Are Tree-mendous

When you visit the DMA this fall, you’ll have the opportunity to see Van Gogh and the Olive Groves, the first exhibition dedicated to Vincent van Gogh’s series of olive grove paintings!  

These paintings capture the abundant olive trees around the asylum of Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh spent the final year of his life. But he was not the only artist who took inspiration from nature. There are many depictions of trees in our collection; take some time to see how many you can find!  

To help you, I’ve put together a tour of trees featuring 11 of my favorites currently on view. Starting on Level 1 in the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, look for this 17th-century dish from Iran among the many ceramics displayed in this gallery. 

Dish, Iran, 17th century, fritware, underglaze-painted in black, blue, turquoise, and brown, with red and yellow slips, The Keir Collection of Islamic Art on loan to the Dallas Museum of Art, K.1.2014.653

Across from the Keir Collection, step outside into the Fleischner Courtyard, named after the artist Richard Fleischner, who designed this space for the DMA’s move to this location in 1983. These are not the original trees, as the courtyard has been refurbished twice since the 1980s—in 1993 and 2009.

Richard Fleischner, Courtyard Project for the Dallas Museum of Art, 1981–83; reconfigured by the artist for the Hamon addition, 1993; refurbished 2009, limestone, marble, wood, and plantings, Dallas Museum of Art, commissioned to honor Minnie and Albert Susman on the occasion of their 50th anniversary by their children Robert F. and Anna Marie Susman Shapiro, 1983.14, © Dallas Museum of Art, 

Next, head to Level 2 and our European Art Galleries to find the grove of oak trees in the Forest of Fontainebleau by Narcisse Diaz de la Peña. The artist was part of the Barbizon School of French painters, whose goal was to rediscover the magic of untouched nature.

Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, Forest of Fontainebleau, 1868, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1991.14.M

Leaving the dark forest behind, take in the bright colors of Claude Monet’s poplar trees. Poplars, Pink Effect belongs to a series of 24 paintings; like Van Gogh, Monet often revisited the same subject multiple times to capture varying light and weather conditions.

Claude Monet, Poplars, Pink Effect, 1891, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., bequest of Mrs. Eugene McDermott, 2019.67.14.McD

Before leaving Level 2, look for an apple tree painted by Piet Mondrian. Through his use of line and color, Mondrian conveyed nature’s dynamic energy.

Piet Mondrian, Apple Tree, Pointillist Version, 1908–09, oil on composition board, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of the James H. and Lillian Clark Foundation, 1982.26.FA

Did you know Winston Churchill was also an artist? If you visit the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection on Level 3, you will find several paintings by Churchill, including Sea and Pine Trees, Cap d’Ail

Winston Churchill, Sea and Pine Trees, Cap d’Ail, about 1955, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection, 1985.R.14, © The Churchill Heritage Limited

As you continue exploring Level 3, take a moment to stop and appreciate the standing male figure from Vanuatu. While not a literal depiction of a tree, it was carved from the lower part of a tree-fern stem and stands over 11 feet tall! 

Standing male figure, Vanuatu, Ambrym Island, about 1930–50, tree fern and pigment, Dallas Museum of Art, anonymous gift, 1996.33

Now make your way to the Arts of Africa Galleries and look for the linguist staff (okyeame poma) from the Asante peoples of Ghana. The finial on this staff refers to an Asante proverb that states, “One who climbs a good tree always gets a push.”

Linguist staff (okyeame poma), Ghana, Asante peoples, 1900–50, wood and gold leaf, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 2010.1.McD

Head to Level 4 and find Veteran, a painting by Everett Spruce (bonus tree points!). The tree in this painting shows us the often uncompromising and inhospitable forces that shape the Texas landscape.

Everett Spruce, Veteran, 1932, oil on Masonite, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Maggie Joe and Alexandre Hogue, 1986.232, © V. Alice Spruce Meriwether

Around the corner from Veteran, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Bare Tree Trunks with Snow gives us a more minimalist and abstract version of trees. O’Keeffe would often simplify what she saw in nature, using descriptive titles to clarify things for the viewer.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Bare Tree Trunks with Snow, 1946, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1953.1, © The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The final tree on this walk through the woods is in the free special exhibition Devoted: Art and Spirituality in Mexico and New Mexico. George López’s sculpture Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life shows the moment when Eve offers Adam an apple from the tree of knowledge—and it is made of wood from three different trees: cottonwood, pine, and cedar!

George López, Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life, 1956, cottonwood, pine, and cedar, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1956.100.1

Stacey Lizotte is the DMA League Director of Adult Programs at the DMA. 

A Change of Scenery for Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Sam F”

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam F, 1985, oil on door, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Samuel N. and Helga A. Feldman, 2019.31, © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York

In 2017 we began conversations with Helga Feldman about a landmark gift to the institution of a work by the incomparably important US artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The portrait, Sam F, painted right here in Dallas, is of Feldman’s late husband, who wanted the work to be given to his city’s museum to be enjoyed by the public. As was the wish of the Feldmans, the work entered the collection at the time of Mrs. Feldman’s death in spring 2021. Basquiat’s significance to the recent history of art is almost unparalleled, and when we received the painting, we got to work making immediate plans to get it on view. With this in mind, we adapted to certain considerations of time and space in order to share the work with our audiences without delay. Therefore, we decided to show it in our Concourse, which is the most public of the Museum spaces, and is traversed by all visitors to the DMA. We have often shown works in that space that we want to honor—the Basquiat hangs where the honored artist of our major annual fundraiser, TWO X TWO for AIDS and Art, is typically found. However, because of the very public nature of this space, our duties to care for the collection mandate that the work must be hung above visitor touch distance—an average viewer’s arm span—to keep the work safe. When Sam F went on view, we received the feedback that seeing the painting from this height was far from ideal. This work clearly struck a chord with viewers—for Basquiat was one of the most innovative figures in 20th-century art history. Moreover, as an artist of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent, his presence in the Museum’s collection signals the crucial contributions of Black and Latinx artists to the art historical canon, and the work contains a wealth of references to Afro-diasporic culture that are illuminated in the accompanying interpretive panel.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Sam F on view across from Pablo Picasso’s The Guitarist on Level 2

We heard this feedback, and we agree—it’s time to move the Basquiat so that the conditions of display can better facilitate the close looking the work merits. As of today, the work will be on view on Level 2, at the threshold between the European and contemporary galleries. The work’s neighbors include paintings by Pablo Picasso and sculptures by Henry Moore, Jacques Lipchitz, and Aristide Maillol. It also abuts our collection of classical art, providing a compelling survey of how artists have treated the human form over thousands of years. Basquiat’s portrait of Sam, who used a wheelchair, rejects the idealism first introduced in the classical period and depicts subjects that are typically excluded as subjects of the fine arts. His signature formal style combines expressive mark making taken from both his past as a graffiti artist and the Neo-Expressionism movement that dominated art in New York in the 1980s, while also pointing to a groundbreaking synthesis and reconfiguration of the art historical language that now surrounds it. We invite you to come and see the work, and to let us know what you think.

Dr. Anna Katherine Brodbeck is the Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Behind the Scenes: Bosco Sodi

Opening September 14, 2021, Bosco Sodi: La fuerza del destino will feature approximately 30 outdoor sculptures by the artist in the DMA’s Sculpture Garden. Created from clay sourced at Sodi’s studio in Oaxaca, dried in the sun, and fired in a traditional brick kiln, the resulting surfaces bear the beautiful scars of their process. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the artist creating his work.

Preparing the clay to sculpt:

Creating the clay spheres:

Drying the clay spheres:

Courtesy: Studio Bosco Sodi, Photographer Sergio Lopez.

Mirror Mirror

Curbed Vanity: A Contemporary Foil by Chris Schanck has given visitors the opportunity to step between the past and the present and see themselves caught in the middle. The free exhibition features two ornate dressing tables facing each other—one an extravagant example of Gilded Age silversmithing and the other a contemporary interpretation by artist Chris Schanck. The vanities are presented together in a conversation from the 19th century to today about craftsmanship, material, and how humans see and perceive themselves.

The exhibition is the perfect spot to stop, reflect, and snap a selfie—something many of you have done over the past five months that these works have been on view. As the show nears its closing date on August 29, we’re looking back on some highlighted “silver selfies” that have been shared on Instagram:

Hayley Caldwell is the Social Media and Content Manager at the DMA.

Behind the Scenes: Treatment of an Early Work by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s paintings in the conservation studio

The Dallas Museum of Art and Art Bridges Foundation partnered in early January of this year to undertake the conservation treatment and technical study of Art Bridge’s newly acquired masterpiece The Thankful Poor by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Additionally, the project will allow for the first public presentation of the work, curated by Sue Canterbury at the DMA.

Before conservation treatment: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Thankful Poor, 1894, oil on canvas, Owned by Art Bridges Foundation

When The Thankful Poor arrived at the DMA’s conservation studio, it was already strikingly beautiful. The composition holds space and immediately draws the viewer in. The painting is double-sided, presenting an unfinished version of The Young Sabot Maker on the reverse, a composition Tanner would complete the following year and which now resides in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s collection.

The Young Sabot Maker on the back of The Thankful Poor

Prior to any conservation treatment, a thorough examination is always undertaken, including archival documentation research relating to any previous interventions. It became apparent that the work had undergone at least one relatively minor restoration campaign in the 1970s. It was also evident that the painting was cleaned and re-varnished in a second treatment, though no verifiable documentation was found. UV illumination was used to better understand which varnishes and treatment materials might have been used, as surface materials such as varnishes and areas of retouching can be differentiated based on their observed fluorescence. In this painting, the varnish is seen glowing green, and older areas of restoration present as black spots.

Here, the front of the work is illuminated with UV light. The streaky green appearance is the fluorescence exhibited by the surface varnish, and the black spots are areas of older restoration.

As both of these treatments took place many years earlier, the varnish layers had become discolored, both yellowed and cloudy. An old tear that had been repaired using wax and paper had also begun to open and needed to be addressed. Finally, a thick layer of discolored adhesive was scattered throughout the composition on the reverse of the canvas.

Left: A tear before treatment. Right: First image showing tear before treatment; detail showing adhesive residues on reverse of canvas.

Tanner was an innovative artist, known to experiment with layering techniques that require especially mindful cleaning approaches. Cleaning tests were conducted under microscopic magnification to determine a cleaning protocol to remove the layers of discolored varnish. To better understand the boundary between paint and varnish, a microscopic sample was used to gain a view of the various layers. The resulting cleaning process was executed almost entirely under the microscope to ensure the most delicate layers were preserved.

Layers seen in a photomicrograph of a cross-sectional sample at 20X magnification

The tear was then mended and areas of losses were filled and retouched using reversible conservation materials. Wide cracks, known as traction cracks, were carefully retouched to better integrate the surface visually.

Left: Detail of areas of traction cracking before treatment. Right: Same detail after treatment.

The cleaning was transformative. The layers of discolored varnish lifted to reveal a colorful palette previously unseen. The overall tone of the painting shifted to unveil a much cooler composition, balancing the contrast.

It was an honor to work on this beautiful painting. Results from the treatment allow the work to be appreciated as the artist intended. Tanner was a master of tone and light, both of which he captured so beautifully in this magnificent composition. Research and treatment work were done collaboratively with my fabulous curatorial colleagues, both at the DMA and at Art Bridges, and I want to give a heartfelt acknowledgment to Sue Canterbury, Martha MacLeod, and Margi Conrads for their collaboration.

Reverse of painting before (left) and after treatment (right)
Front of painting before (left) and after treatment (right).

Laura Eva Hartman is the Paintings Conservator at the DMA.

Hitting Close to Home

As the closing date for the exhibition For a Dreamer of Houses approaches, I can’t help but reflect on how timely, vibrant, and meaningful the show has been to those who have experienced it. The exhibition was originally set to open in March 2020, an opening that was never realized due to the pandemic. The timing was poignant and somewhat surreal—here we have a show about the significance of one’s home coming to fruition during a time of socially distanced shutdown, when all of us were becoming significantly more familiar with the spaces we inhabit. During that time, we launched a virtual tour of the exhibition, which allowed audiences from near and far to explore the contents of the show and think about how they relate to our present experiences, how our spaces reflect ourselves, and what our spaces and the everyday objects within them mean to us. The themes hit close to home, so to speak.

The exhibition finally opened in person along with the rest of the DMA in August 2020. We welcomed you home to your city’s museum—home to this special exhibition of contemporary art—after all of us spent months in our own homes. With fresh perspectives, you, our visitors, made magic happen as you ventured out and became part of the art. Here’s a look back at what you experienced.

The colorful energy of Alex Da Corte’s unmissable Rubber Pencil Devil:

The whimsy of the Drawers, Chests, and Wardrobes section, featuring works by Olivia Erlanger, Robert Pruitt, and Sarah Lucas:

The awe-inspiring immersion of Francisco Moreno’s Chapel:

The intimate materials of Janine Antoni’s Grope:

The delicate beauty of Do Ho Suh’s Hub, 260-10 Sungbook-dong, Sungbook-ku, Seoul, Korea:

. . . and much more.

There’s still a bit of time left for you to visit For a Dreamer of Houses before the exhibition closes on July 4, 2021. Be sure to book your visit soon and make yourself at home.

Hayley Caldwell is the Social Media and Content Manager at the DMA.

The White North

Julian Charrière, Towards No Earthly Pole, 2019. Film still. Courtesy of the artist; DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM, Berlin; Galerie Tschudi, Zuoz; Sean Kelly, New York; and Sies+Höke, Düsseldorf. Copyright the artist; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 

Julian Charrière’s work Towards No Earthly Pole draws its title from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s epitaph in Westminster Abbey, London, for Sir John Franklin, the British explorer lost in an ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The epitaph reads in full: 

NOT HERE: THE WHITE NORTH HAS THY BONES; AND THOU, HEROIC SAILOR-SOUL, ART PASSING ON THINE HAPPIER VOYAGE NOW TOWARD NO EARTHLY POLE. 

Franklin’s doomed expedition was the source of public fascination in the late 19th century and continues to shape our perception of Arctic exploration to this day. Franklin embarked in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, on his third attempt to discover the Northwest Passage, a sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Canadian Arctic. The ships became icebound in 1847 in the Victoria Strait and were abandoned in April 1848 after nearly two dozen officers and men, including Franklin, perished in the cold. The rest made for the Canadian mainland but were never heard from again. Of the 129 men who began the expedition, none survived.  

The British Admiralty launched several search parties over the subsequent decades, recovering artifacts and remains from the doomed expedition. Their findings suggested that the crew succumbed to hypothermia, starvation, lead poisoning, exposure, and disease. In some of the most sensational findings, examinations of remains offered potential evidence of cannibalism. The search for Franklin over the course of nearly 30 rescue missions better mapped the Canadian coastline and led to the eventual discovery of a Northwest Passage, but it also left a lasting legacy in the cultural imagination of Victorian Britain. The endeavor and its failure offered a narrative of man’s struggle against nature, the tragic romance and heroism of exploration, and the overwhelming power of a landscape alien to the British public.  

Frederic Edwin Church, The Icebergs, 1861, oil on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Norma and Lamar Hunt, 1979.28

This preoccupation with the Arctic and the looming specter of Franklin is evident in the American painter Frederic Edwin Church’s 1861 work The Icebergs. A jewel of the DMA’s collection, the painting is emblematic of the sweeping views and dramatic uses of light that characterized the Hudson River School, with which Church was associated. Church worked from studies produced during his own month-long expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1859, where he observed the material qualities of the icebergs and their Arctic surroundings. 

Initially exhibited in New York and Boston in 1861 with the title The North, the painting failed to attract buyers due to the ongoing Civil War, despite immense praise from American audiences. In 1863 Church sent the painting to London, where he hoped to attract interest from his British supporters. Before transporting the work across the Atlantic, he made two notable alterations: renaming the work with its present title, The Icebergs, to avoid conflation with the Union; and adding a broken mast to the foreground. Though the artist’s motivations for including the mast remain unknown, it may have served as a reference to the Franklin expedition, synonymous with the devastated promise of Arctic exploration.  

The same interest in the beguiling and terrible power of the icebergs that captivated Church is evident in Towards No Earthly Pole. The sublime glacial landscape appears fantastic and otherworldly, something beyond the comprehension of humanity. Though Indigenous communities have long staked out ways of living symbiotically with the Arctic environment, Franklin’s expedition and Church’s painting point to the hubris of imperial attempts to conquer and claim the polar landscape. Charrière’s film suggests that despite our advances in scientific knowledge and ability to map the world, we still have a fascination with and ignorance of a land that retains its power to resist us.

Hilde Nelson is the Curatorial Assistant for Contemporary Art at the DMA.


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