What is Early Texas Art?

David Brownlow c/o Morris Ma

Early Texas Art is just cowboys and cactus, right? Certainly, many Texas artists are inspired by the culture and landscape. Others have been inspired by the urban centers, European modernists and some even have explored the abstract.

The term “early” can be misleading. It does not mean antique, just art that’s not being produced contemporarily. CASETA uses a rolling definition of up to 40 years in the past.

Here’s a brief history.

In 1893 when the World’s Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago none but one artist from Texas was represented. Frank Reaugh sold two of the four paintings at the fair.

Time fast forward. By 1930’s, with an impressive roster of artists, Texas art was entering the national scene.

From Dallas, Otis Dozier’s work had entered the national stage in the 1930s. By 1939 William Lester’s work was being shown in major exhibitions in New York and San Francisco. By the 1950s, Jack Boynton’s work was displayed at the Guggenheim and Whitney. While local collectors often headed to New York to buy art, it was just as often art from Texas they brought home.

Across from the Trinity River some 40 miles away, the Fort Worth Circle looked directly into European modernism for their inspiration. “We were considered way out at the time, “ said Kelly Fearing, “but we were just doing what we liked.” Together with some of the Dallas Nine members, these artists formed the core group at UT Austin and fostered generations of artists.

At the same time, as early as 1960, museums across Texas pushed artists to keep abreast with the national and international art movement. James Sweeney, a curator at both MOMA and Guggenheim, came to Houston to establish the town as the stronghold of contemporary art. In Dallas, MacAgy brought in the first retrospective exhibition in North America of Rene Magritte. Texas artist David MacMannway, Roy Fridge, and Jim Love were sharing the same space with other young artists such as Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg.

Today, Texas art is as much national as art from New York or California. Texas natives David Bates and James Surls are just two of the artists squarely in the national limelight.

“There is no difference between what I do and what Marsden Hartley or Diebenkorn did,” David Bates told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “What I do couldn’t be more American.”

We invite you to join us in exploring the rich and complex fabric of Texas, and American, art.