Beginning January 14, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection, an exhibition tracing the history of American stilllife painting in the United States from the early 19th century to the present day. Bringing together 60 of the most influential American luminaries of the genre—including Otis Kaye, Georgia O’Keeffe, James Peale, John F. Peto, Max Weber, and Andrew Wyeth—Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting features over 65 works from the private, Houston-based collection of Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs, the majority of which have never before been seen by the public. The exhibition will remain on view through April 9, 2017.
Through the extraordinary range of artistic styles and subject matter found in the Hevrdejs collection, the exhibition illustrates the rise and development of the still-life genre in postrevolutionary America, from European-influenced realism and trompe l’oeil to Impressionism, Modernism, Pop Art, and beyond.
Nineteenth-century highlights include Still Life with Fruit (1821–30), one of the earliest and most elaborate known still lifes by American master James Peale; and The Writer’s Table—A Precarious Moment (1892), a haunting trompe l’oeil composition that highlights John F. Peto’s masterful use of color, geometry, and light. Moving into the 20th century, works such as Max Weber’s Still Life with Three Jugs (1929) and Georgia O’Keeffe’s From Pink Shell (1931) reflect the growth of Modernism in America and its influence on the still-life genre. The exhibition is rounded out by 21st-century highlights, from Wayne Thiebaud’s Jelly Rolls (for Morton) (2008), painted as a tribute to jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton, to the poppy flowers painted by contemporary Minimalist artist Donald Sultan in Rouge Poppies (2012).
Accompanying Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting: The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection is a 288-page catalogue of the same name by William H. Gerdts, professor emeritus of art history at the CUNY Graduate Center and a preeminent scholar of American art. Known for his work on 19th-century American still-life painting in particular, Gerdts is the author of more than 25 publications, including The Color of Modernism: The American Fauves and Art Across America. The fully illustrated catalogue Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting, which presents new scholarship on the history of art collecting and still-life painting in the U.S., is published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and distributed by Yale University Press.
“I express my deep gratitude to Frank Hevrdejs, life trustee and longtime chairman of the Museum’s Collections Committee, and his wife, Michelle, for their generosity in sharing these undeniable masterpieces with our visitors,” said Gary Tinterow, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting traces not only the progression of the American still life, but also the progression of the Hevrdejs’ as avid collectors of the genre.”
“Visitors to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will have a chance to experience why this particular type of painting has captivated American artists, collectors, and audiences for over 200 years and discover works of art that have not been widely seen or published,” added Kaylin Weber, assistant curator of American painting and sculpture, and organizing curator of the exhibition.
Following its inaugural display in Houston, Two Centuries of American Still-Life Painting will travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (April 22–July 30, 2017) and the Tacoma Museum of Art (September 2, 2017–January 7, 2018).
The Frank and Michelle Hevrdejs Collection Amassed over the past three decades, the Hevrdejs collection is a sweeping collection of American painting, including major portraits, genre and figure scenes, landscapes of the Hudson River School, and more. Though the collection as a whole spans a wide variety of schools and genres, still-life painting in particular has been an area of interest for the couple. This special concentration was first inspired by the Hevrdejs’ admiration for 17th-century Dutch still-life painting, which eventually led to a deep appreciation for the American genre. Their collection of still-life works begins with the appearance of the earliest American practitioners of the genre and continues to include many of the finest artists and specialists who focus on the theme today.
As noted by catalogue author William H. Gerdts, the Hevrdejs collection of still-life paintings is “unique in that it is devoted to the entire expanse of the still-life genre, from its beginnings shortly after the establishment of American independence to works of art painted in the last few years, thus chronicling the ever-changing forms and concepts of still life.”