Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on November 14, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University and Gregg Hertzlieb. The essay was previously included in a 2001 illustrated brochure published by the Museum. Images accompanying the text in the illustrated brochure were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the illustrated brochure, please contact Brauer Museum of Art through either this phone number or web address:
Tremont, by Frank V. Dudley (1868-1957) and Female Nude Standing by Easel, by Philip Pearlstein (b. 1924)
by Gregg Hertzlieb
Two new acquisitions at the Brauer Museum of Art, purchased through the Sloan Endowment, take their places in the Brauer galleries as major works in the collection. Tremont by Frank V. Dudley (1868-1957) and Female Nude Standing by Easel by Philip Pearlstein (born 1924) are fine examples of the conservative realism that characterizes purchases from this endowment.
The Sloan Endowment originated with Percy H. Sloan's generous gift of 272 landscapes, portraits, and genre oils and watercolors by his father, Junius R. Sloan (1827-1900). Percy wanted his father's artwork studied, exhibited, and properly preserved by a scholarly institution. For the same purpose, Percy gave to Valparaiso University the remainder of his personal art collection (including fine paintings by Chicago artists Frank V. Dudley and Pauline Palmer, and such masterworks as T. Alexander Harrison's Les Amateurs, Frederic E. Church's oil study Mountain Landscape, and Robert Reid's impressionist painting In the Garden) and the funds to establish an endowment to improve the collection. The processing of Percy H. Sloan's gifts was completed in 1953, after his death, and Valparaiso University was at that point on its way toward establishing the remarkable collection that viewers can enjoy today in the Brauer Museum of Art.
Junius Sloan's landscapes belong to the stylistic group known as the Hudson River School. Hudson River School painters, active in the second half of the nineteenth century, wished to capture the qualities of the sublime and beautiful that they saw in the American landscape. While Junius Sloan was primarily a midwestern painter, he was inspired by the Hudson River School artists and brought their sense of reverence for the American landscape to the midwestern prairie. Percy apparently very much wanted the spirit of his father's work preserved and a variety of conservative American paintings celebrated.
Consequently, Percy Sloan expressed in his trust documents the wish that paintings purchased with Sloan Endowment funds be conservative in nature -- conservative, one might infer, in the sense of building upon father Junius Sloan's legacy of capturing beauty and meaning through close observation and sensitive interpretations of the visible world. Though its understandings of "conservative" in particular cases over the years have varied, the Brauer Museum, with Sloan Endowment funds, has purchased many works that are fine examples of important developments in nineteenth and twentieth century American representational painting. With these two new Sloan Endowment fund purchases, the Brauer Museum reaffirms its commitment to use the Sloan Endowment fund to acquire works that find beauty and meaning through the appearances of the surrounding world. The Frank Dudley painting Percy Sloan might have purchased himself. The Pearlstein he never had a chance to see, but the Pearlstein oil fosters new awareness through an important mode of realism in the second half of the twentieth century. Percy Sloan's gifts have been central to the founding of the Brauer Museum of Art and its collection and continue to be a mighty force in shaping the museum's further development.
Tremont by Frank Dudley (1868-1957) is a fine work by an artist whose work has long been much admired in this area, particularly by Percy Sloan whose gift to Valparaiso University included seven Dudley oils. He received numerous awards for his art and achieved substantial recognition in Chicago for his work during the course of his life. Through his environmental efforts, he was pivotal in enabling the Dunes and surrounding lands to be protected and preserved for future generations. Nicknamed "the Seer of the Dunes," Dudley has achieved an almost old master status in Northwest Indiana as a painter of Indiana dunescapes and the grandeur of Lake Michigan's southern shorelines. This dramatic 1923 oil painting on canvas captures the rich atmosphere of an overcast day at the Dunes, when the sky is deeply blue and richly opaque with the promise of sheets of cool rain. Chicago's Prairie Club, an organization with a long history of appreciating and promoting the midwestern landscape (as well as key figures like Frank Dudley's relationship to it), approached the Brauer museum in hopes of finding a suitable home for their Dudley masterpiece. The Brauer has since its beginning been very interested in presenting the achievements of Dudley and is proud to own a substantial number of significant works by the artist. Upon seeing this striking piece, the Brauer staff was impressed by its quality and enthusiastic to add it to the collection. The Sloan Endowment provided the perfect means for the purchase of this work because it was not only a landscape done by an important regionalist, but also a work conservative in nature that is able to convey a feeling of wonder in the presence of a natural scene. In all fairness, Dudley, as an artist fascinated by the lessons of impressionism, was more gestural or expressive in his paint application than Junius Sloan would ever choose to be in his finished works; perhaps the open expanses of the Dunes, the vast skies, and the churning lake waters demanded that Dudley be more broad in his approach than Sloan's careful renderings of full trees, wildflowers, and cows at pasture. Nevertheless, Dudley's style is painterly and representational simultaneously. He delights in the activity of the brush, while recording the saturated tones and hues surrounding him in a landscape perpetually reacting to the shifting struggles of air, earth, and water.
While Tremont has a fairly simple composition, it offers a great deal of drama that makes viewing it a more active experience than one might have viewing the Brauer's other more tranquil works that focus primarily on the grasses and shadows of the sand dunes. The blue of the picture reaches out to viewers from across the room, drawing them into a thickly painted and subtly modulated sky that threatens to resound with muffled thunder as well as bathe the white sands with nourishing rain. Those viewers who have visited the area and have stood in the approximate location where Dudley painted this scene will easily be able to follow the curve of Lake Michigan, mentally picture steel mills that line the shore, and imagine the skyline of Chicago in the far distance. Hanging over the steel coast is a dense expanse of atmosphere, providing a reminder of the awe-inspiring face of nature as it undergoes the cycle of renewal and replenishment. Dudley is able through his work to move the Indiana Dunes beyond the picturesque into an area of interesting juxtapositions and startling contrasts that make this landscape truly unique.
Philip Pearlstein (born 1924) is an artist whose work is very different from that of Frank Dudley. Yet Pearlstein's art also falls under the general category of conservative realism so important to Percy H. Sloan and the Sloan Endowment. Although Pearlstein is still active as an important New York painter, he first achieved national and international prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as an artist who resisted the dominant trends of minimal and conceptual art to focus instead on a realistic portrayal of the unclothed human figure and the dynamic, unusual positions or poses that a human can adopt in the confines of a bare studio. Pearlstein's long-standing goal has been to demonstrate that the human body, with all its imperfections, shapes, and shadows, is an eternally rich subject fully capable of providing visual challenge and meaning. By posing his subject or subjects in a room devoid of distracting details (although his latest works integrate a variety of unusual still life objects with the figures) and choosing to observe those subjects from an often curious or even seemingly awkward vantage point, Pearlstein carefully records in paint the shadows that fall across skin, the veins that run beneath the skin, the limbs that extend (often distorted through foreshortened perspective) across the cold floor to the painted wall. Faces are hidden or not included to force the viewer to concentrate on the mass of the body, rather than the identity of the subject; in Pearlstein's work, the body is very much an object to be considered and understood in terms of its physicality, its nature as a living mass of skin, blood, and muscle.
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