Taft Museum of Art

photo by Tony Walsh

Cincinnati, OH




American Paintings at Procter & Gamble: the Historic Cincinnati Collection


Located in the hallways of Procter & Gamble's high-rise corporate offices, few people have had a glimpse at some of the finest pieces of art Cincinnati has to offer. Until now.

The Taft Museum of Art will display 30 of P&G's paintings, giving the public a rare opportunity to view this extraordinary collection, which has only been shown publicly once before. American Paintings at Procter & Gamble: The Historic Cincinnati Collection will be on display in the Garden Gallery from March 16-June 17, 2001. (left: James R. Hopkins (1877-1969), Mandarin Blue, 1917, oil on canvas, 32 x 25 inches, The Procter & Gamble Co.)

John G. Smale, P&G's now retired chairman of the board and chief executive, wanted to create the collection to celebrate the relationship between Cincinnati, its rich heritage of fine artists and P&G. The collection came about in response to the drabness of the executive floor of the P&G Cincinnati office complex. Smale remarks: "While we had a few paintings, including portraits of the founders and a couple by Herman Wessell, for the most part the walls were unadorned."

In 1981 Smale asked Phyllis Weston, the city's foremost authority on Cincinnati artists, to begin putting together a collection for the P&G executive floor. Phyllis attended auctions and diligently traced and found Cincinnati paintings from around the country. The result was not merely another collection of Cincinnati art, but a group of paintings that includes masterpieces of American art in general.

Art history scholar William Gerdts says of the collection: "Here is a wonderful group of works by artists associated with Cincinnati, some superb painters of only local or regional reputation and others who are nationally celebrated. Indeed, some of these pictures by artists such as James Beard, Robert Blum, Elizabeth Nourse, and John Twachtman regularly appear in my own lectures as among the finest examples of the achievements of the those painters." Gerdts will provide further context to the collection when he lectures at the Taft Museum of Art on Thursday, March 22

The special exhibition of P&G paintings ranges from the earliest years of formal art training in Cincinnati, from the 1839 painting The Blue Hole, Little Miami River by Godfrey Frankenstein to a brightly colored still-life of a vase of Zinnias, painted about 1967, by Bessie Hoover Wessell. The paintings in the exhibition demonstrate the focus of Cincinnati artists on contemporary art trends in 19th-century Europe, in particular works by artists who traveled and were able to study this new art for themselves. (left: Charles A. Meurer (1865-1955), The Power of the Press, 1903, oil on canvas, 30 x 25 inches, The Procter & Gamble Co.)

One of the masterpieces in the exhibition is North Carolina Emigrants: Poor White Folks, a politically charged painting of 1845 by James Henry Beard with strong visual metaphors against western expansion and slavery. Two works in the exhibition are by Robert Scott Duncanson, who painted the famous murals that adorn the front hallway of the Taft Museum of Art. Duncanson's Pass at Leny is one of his best-preserved, most beautifully colored and lyrically symbolic paintings. Thomas Satterwhite Noble, who was brought to Cincinnati to direct the new McMicken School of Design (now the Art Academy of Cincinnati), is represented by one of the most powerful images of the consequences of slavery with Margaret Garner.

Works by later artists, in particular those who trained at the Art Academy of Cincinnati under Frank Duveneck , are as fine as any examples in public collections. Paintings by Duveneck's students Dixie Selden and Bessie Hoover Wessell testify not only to the important role of women artists (as opposed to artisans) in Cincinnati's cultural heritage, but also to the flexibility of Duveneck's influence on artists for whom impressionism was a guiding factor.

John Wilson, consulting curator of painting and sculpture for the Taft Museum of Art, organized this exhibition and is also the author of an accompanying catalogue for sale in the Museum Shop.

American Paintings at Procter & Gamble: The Historic Cincinnati Collection is sponsored by the LKC Foundation, the Cinergy Foundation and the Frank J. Kloenne & Jacqueline D. Kloenne Foundation.

Read more about the Taft Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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