As curator of the KMA, I get the fun and sometimes complicated task of planning updates and changes to our permanent exhibitions. Our curatorial staff has been working hard over the last month to add more than a dozen new paintings and photographs to our signature exhibition, Higher Ground: A Century of the Visual Arts in East Tennessee.
Among the works we added to Higher Ground are new acquisitions by key East Tennessee artists. Smoky Mountains, by Rudolph Ingerle, represents a scenic view of East Tennessee’s rugged landscape during the 1920s by a prominent Chicago artist who became one of the leading painters of the Smokies. Etruscan Still Life, by Charles Rain, is a minutely-detailed canvas by a Knoxville-born artist who possessed a talent for using ordinary objects to construct mysterious, dream-like scenes rich with symbolic references. These two acquisitions are especially exciting for me because they are the first works by Ingerle and Rain to enter the KMA collection. Morning Milking Time by Catherine Wiley reflects the Knoxville artist’s mastery of Impressionism, and her ability to convey through the use of vibrant color and bold brushwork the heat and light of the late morning sun on her sister’s farm in northwest Knox County. Just a year or so ago, the KMA owned only one major painting by Wiley. With the purchase of Morning Milking Time this year and Untitled (Woman and Child in a Meadow) last year, we now own three outstanding examples that enable us to do justice to her immense artistic talent. One artist whose paintings we do own in depth is Carl Sublett, but Sign Language is the first that represents his experimentation with Pop Art during the early 1960s. The artist’s son, Eric, explained to me how was inspired by a “See Rock City” birdhouse his father encountered during one of his regular summer trips to Maine. Other recent acquisitions on view in Higher Ground include works by Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Lloyd Branson, and Walter Hollis Stevens.
Paintings borrowed from public and private collections add significant strength to the new display. Beauford Delaney’s Scattered Light is a spectacular example of the legendary Knoxville artist’s ability to distill the visual world into dabs of brilliant color in a manner reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Helen Ross by Edward Hurst offers a strikingly candid likeness by one of Knoxville’s most recognized portrait painters. The portrait’s casual pose and loose brushwork suggest the influence of Hurst’s Art Students League mentor George Luks. Untitled (At the Blacksmith’s Shop) reflects Gilbert Gaul’s masterful ability to construct poignant narrative scenes of everyday life. In Early Autumn, Louis Jones applies thick dabs of paint to construct a rustic scene that likely depicts woods near his beloved Gatlinburg. Although Gaul and Jones were born outside East Tennessee, they were lured to the region by its beauty and spent significant parts of their careers here. The KMA is grateful for the generous support from lenders and donors who made possible these additions to Higher Ground.
|Catherine Wiley (1879-1958)
Morning Milking Time, circa 1915
Oil on canvas
40 x 29 ¾ inchesJoint Purchase of the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox County Public Library, and the Knoxville Museum of Art with funds provided by the C. M. McClung Collection Endowment, Natalie and Jim Haslam, Ann and Steve Bailey, Ellen “Sis” Mitchell, Kay and Jim Clayton, Laura and Jason Bales, Patricia and Alan Rutenberg, John Thomas, and Kimbro Maguire and Penny Lynch, 2012.
Although best known for her depictions of women and children in quiet domestic settings, Wiley here depicts a male worker on her sister’s farm in northwest Knox County. This painting reflects the Knoxville artist’s mastery of impressionism, and her ability to convey through the use of vibrant color and bold brushwork the heat and light of the late morning sun as it falls on the East Tennessee landscape.
|Rudolph Ingerle (1879-1950)
Smoky Mountains, circa 1925
Oil on canvas
Gift of the Haslam family in honor of Steve Bailey’s 60th birthday, 2013
|Louis E. Jones (1878-1958)
Early Autumn, circa 1930s
Oil on canvas
Tennessee State Museum, 93.60.2A native of Pennsylvania, Louis E. Jones became known for his vibrant paintings of the Smoky Mountains rendered in a broad palette of thickly applied pigment. Unlike most visiting artists who came to the Smokies to paint during summers, Jones permanently settled there around 1930. Soon thereafter, he established a studio in downtown Gatlinburg, The Cliff Dwellers, a distinctive chalet-style building that still stands.
|Beauford Delaney (1901-1979)
Scattered Light, 1964
Oil on canvas
Estate of Beauford Delaney, by permission of Derek L. Spratley, Esq., Court Appointed Administrator
|Charles Rain (1911-1985)
Etruscan Still Life, 1968
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Henry W. Grady, Jr., 2012
|Carl Sublett (1919-2008)
Sign Language, 1963
Polymer, oil, and pencil on canvas
Museum purchase in memory of Helen and Carl Sublett
Sublett was a versatile, prolific painter and a core member of the Knoxville Seven, a group of forward-looking artists active between 1959 and 1965. Sign Language represents Sublett’s experimentation with Pop Art during the early 1960s. The painting was inspired when Sublett was on one of his many trips to Maine and happened to encounter a birdhouse in the shape of one of the many barns throughout the Southeast that advertise the roadside attraction “Rock City” near Chattanooga.