Visual Arts

By: Ron Tyler

Type: Overview Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: May 24, 2022

[Plates referred to in this article are in the color section at the beginning of Volume 1 of the print edition of The New Handbook of Texas.] With the exception of Indian pictographs and petroglyphs (see AMERICAN INDIAN ROCK ART), the early visual arts of Texas are the work of travelers who brought with them the traditions of other cultures. The first picture having to do with Texas might well have been Frenchman Jean l'Archevêque's crude 1689 painting of one of La Salle's ships (see SPANISH TEXAS), an effort to persuade the Spanish governor to rescue him and his shipmate from the Indian village where they had lived ever since the La Salle expedition had disintegrated two years earlier. Father Louis Hennepin further elaborated upon La Salle's expedition to Texas with two imaginary engravings in his A Discovery of a Vast Country in America (London, 1698): La Salle's ship landing on the coast of Texas and the assassination of La Salle.

The Spanish colonial period. There is little visual material relating to Spanish Texas, because few of the soldiers and settlers who entered Texas before 1821 could be classified as artists. There are some exceptions, the most important being the Destruction of Mission San Sabá in the Province of Texas and the Martyrdom of the Fathers Alonso Giraldo de Terreros, Joseph Santiesteban, a memorial painting attributed to Mexico City artist José de Páez (see SAN SABÁ MISSION PAINTING, and PLATE 3). Other Spanish Texas art consists only of several drawings of soldiers by Ramundo de Murrillo (see PLATE 4) and maps and vignettes, especially the series on presidios that Joseph de Urrutia y de las Casas did while on the 1767 expedition of the Marqués de Rubí. The most outstanding examples of Spanish art and architecture in Texas are easily the Spanish missions of San Antonio. "The remarkable thing about the sculptured work on San José," wrote W. A. Rogers in Harper's Weekly in 1899, "is its marvelous freedom." He also called attention to the mission's famous rose window. A short-lived settlement of Napoleonic exiles on the Trinity River, near the site of present-day Liberty, inspired the second group of images. Champ d'Asile lasted less than six months, but the French liberals idealized this foray into the wilderness and composed songs, poems, pictures, and books and organized tribute dinners on behalf of the refugees. Ludwig Rullmann, Louis Garneray, and the famous Horace Vernet produced imaginary depictions of the settlement, while others published sheet music, books, and caricatures, with the proceeds to go to the Texas refugees. None of these Romantic images, with the possible exception of the maps, bore any relation to the defunct colony, but they did spread the name of Texas across France and much of Europe.

The Mexican period. Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán's Comisión de Límites of 1828 produced the first important eye-witness documentation of Texas. With Mier traveled French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier and cartographer José Sánchez y Tapía, who collected specimens, kept journals, and made dozens of maps and drawings—of plants, animals, people, and communities. They compiled much material on South and East Texas, and after they returned to Mexico, Lino Sánchez y Tapía painted a series of watercolors of the people of Texas, including representatives of sixteen different Indian tribes, from Berlandier's notes and sketches (see PLATE 5 and 6). Today the Berlandier material is scattered from the University of Texas at Austin to the Gilcrease Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, Yale and Harvard universities, and museums in Great Britain and Europe. It is possible that George Catlin visited northern Texas while on his 1834 trip into Indian Territory. He produced a number of pictures labeled "Texas," including Caddo Indians Gathering Wild Grapes, Texas, Catlin and Party Stalking Buffalo in Texas, Comanche Giving Arrows to the Medicine Rock, and Comanche Village, Women Dressing Robes and Drying Meat, among others. Even though Catlin scholar William H. Truettner maintains that Catlin did not cross into Texas during that trip, the pictures are still the best contemporary visual record that exist of the Caddos, Comanches, and other Texas tribes. Perhaps it was Catlin's later land speculation in Texas that led him to label the scenes as being of the state.

The number of pictures increased with Anglo-American colonization in Mexican Texas. An unknown draftsman produced four small drawings to be included as engravings in a small volume called A Visit to Texas (New York, 1834). Mary Austin Holley made several small, crude sketches of Houston and the Perry plantation in her diary, and Stephen F. Austin had his portrait painted on several occasions. Two portraits of him by William Howard (see PLATE 7), painted while Austin was in Mexico City in 1833, are at the University of Texas at Austin. At least one artist was present at the battle of San Jacinto, but William Tylee Ranney, a young art student from Middletown, Connecticut, apparently chose not to depict any scenes of the event. His months in Texas probably inspired his later paintings of vaqueros roping mustangs on the prairies, but, with the exception of maps, the only pictures of the events of the Texas Revolution are imaginary: engravings in books such as John M. Niles, South America and Mexico (1836) and Davy Crockett's Almanac, sheet music such as the Texian Grand March, and caricatures like Edward W. Clay's Genl. Houston, Santa Ana, & Cos.

The Republic of Texas. Most of the paintings done during the republic are either portraits or small sketches or watercolors intended for publication, primarily in immigrant guides, or for private use. At least nineteen identifiable artists entered the republic, most of them from the United States. Among the limners were James Strange, perhaps a Scottish immigrant, who painted portraits of Antonio López de Santa Anna and his aide, Juan N. Almonte, soon after the battle of San Jacinto; Kentuckian Thomas Jefferson Wright, who began work on his "Gallery of National Portraits" in a Houston hotel room in 1836 (see PLATE 11); and Ambrose Andrews, who arrived from New England in the fall of 1837 and spent the next four years in Houston as a naturalist and portrait painter. Among those searching for material for publication was the artist-naturalist John James Audubon, who visited Houston and Galveston with his son, John Woodhouse Audubon, in 1837 in search of additional specimens for The Birds of America (see PLATE 12) and the prospective Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (see PLATE 13). William Bissett, Charles Hooten, Edward Hall, and several unknown artists produced sketches that were published as prints in travel narratives or guides. Charles M'Laughlin illustrated Thomas Jefferson Green's Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier (New York, 1845), while an unnamed artist provided illustrations for George Wilkins Kendall's best-selling Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition (New York, 1844). William Bollaert, who might have been a British spy intent on keeping Texas from joining the Union, apparently did not intend his small, precise drawings for publication, and they did not become known until the twentieth century, when they wound up in the collections of the Newberry Library and historian W. Eugene Hollon edited and published Bollaert's extensive journal.

An 1843 Indian council on Tehuacana Creek, near the site of present-day Waco (see TEHUACANA CREEK COUNCILS), drew the attention of the fine American artist John Mix Stanley, who accompanied United States commissioner Pierce Butler to the event. Two paintings by Stanley remain from this council—Ko-rak-koo-kiss, a Towoccono Warrior and Indian Council, Tehuacana Creek, Texas (both in the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; see PLATE 14)—but others might have been destroyed in the fire that destroyed the Smithsonian in 1865, and with it, Stanley's Indian Gallery.

Draftsmen and cartographers such as Friedrich Jacob Rothaas of Houston (see PLATE 15), William H. Sandusky of Austin, and Theodore Gentilz of Castroville (see PLATE 23) made other drawings. Gentilz, by far the most talented of the three, moved in 1846 to San Antonio, where he documented the community's Spanish architecture and folk culture in genre scenes. He later tried his hand at historical subjects such as Shooting of the Seventeen Decimated Texians or Drawing of the Black Beans (private collection) and Battle of the Alamo, which was destroyed in a nineteenth-century fire. There was apparently at least one early effort to produce a memorial to the heroes of the battle of the Alamo. In 1843 a reporter for the New Orleans Daily Picayune described a monument that had been carved by a sculptor named Joseph Cox. "It is constructed of white stone taken from the ruins of the Alamo," he wrote. "The design is chaste, the work beautifully executed, and as a product of art it is worthy of comparison with any other kind." The piece reportedly had military emblems carved on it, with the names of William B. Travis, David Crockett, James Bowie, and James B. Bonham etched on the four sides of the obelisk. The monument apparently was exhibited in New Orleans and, despite the fact that it was supposed to have been purchased by the state of Texas, was sold for the costs of the exhibition and never made it to Texas. By 1851 legends of the memorial had grown to the point that the Texas State Gazette (see AUSTIN STATE GAZETTE) reported that the rock had been chiseled from the walls of the Alamo by an English or German artist who had fought in the battles of Texas and who then "spent several months in this pious labor." The last word on the sculpture was that it had been spotted in the rubbish of a marble yard in New Orleans (see ALAMO MONUMENTS).

Early statehood. Although a number of easel paintings date from antebellum Texas (1846–61), most of the art produced then was still intended either for personal use or for publication in a book or magazine. At least thirty identifiable artists arrived in Texas during these years; most were from the United States, but a large number were from Germany. The Mexican War brought a number of American soldier-artists into the new state, including Edward Everett, Samuel Emery Chamberlain (see PLATE 16), Daniel Powers Whiting, and George C. Furber. Whiting, Everett, and Furber published some of their pictures during or shortly after the war, but Chamberlain's vibrant watercolors, accompanied by a candid and perhaps fictional journal-narrative, remained within his family until after World War II, when they were placed on the market. Historian William H. Goetzmann has published two volumes on Chamberlain, one each on the two main collections of his work at the San Jacinto Museum in Houston and the West Point Museum at the United States Military Academy.

Several talented artists arrived with the successive waves of Germans who immigrated in the 1840s and '50s. Carl Gustav von Iwonski accompanied his family from Hilbersdorf in Silesia (now a part of western Poland) in 1845–46, Swiss artist and naturalist Conrad Caspar Rohrdorf arrived with the Bonn Company of Naturalists in 1847, and Richard Petri and Hermann Lungkwitz arrived from Dresden in 1851. Rohrdorf reportedly drew at least forty-five sketches of Texas before being shot to death near Round Top just a few months after his arrival. His panoramic view of New Braunfels was lithographed in Germany in 1851 to accompany a booklet encouraging emigration to Texas. Petri might have been the most talented of the four, but he died in 1857, shortly after arriving in Texas, leaving his major work, Fort Martin Scott, unfinished (see PLATE 18). Iwonski remained until 1875 painting landscapes, portraits, genre paintings, and still lifes. He did two lithographs—Neu-Braunfels. Deutsche Colonie in West Texas (1856) and Germania Gesangverein, Neu Braunfels, Texas (1857)—and several drawings for Harper's Weekly. He and W. C. A. Thielepape also experimented with a method of photographically reproducing drawings that they called "homeography." Lungkwitz, the finest landscape painter of nineteenth-century Texas, painted landscapes and cityscapes around San Antonio, Austin, and the Hill Country until his death in 1891 (see PLATE 26). He also produced three handsome lithographs—of San Antonio, Fredericksburg, and Ernst Kapp's Water Cure, near Comfort.

Some artists entered the state at the behest of the federal government, and most of their work was included in a series of government publications. After the war with Mexico, the government undertook a number of surveys throughout the West, many of them documenting the unsettled regions of Texas. The first to cross Texas, even before statehood had been approved, was James W. Abert's expedition down the Canadian River in 1845. Abert was an artist of some ability, having been trained at West Point, and his published report (A Report of an Expedition led by Lieutenant Abert, on the Upper Arkansas and Through the Country of the Comanche Indians, in the year 1845, 1846) contains nine lithographs, including a picture of Pillar Rock (now called Chimney Peak) on the Canadian. Randolph B. Marcy after attempting unsuccessfully to find the headwaters of the Red River in 1852, published the first pictures of Palo Duro Canyon in his Exploration of the Red River of Louisiana, in the Year 1852 (1853), while artist Heinrich B. Möllhausen crossed the Panhandle from east to west with Lt. Amiel W. Whipple's portion of the Pacific Railroad Survey in 1853, documenting the landscape and Kiowa culture in Reports of Explorations and Surveys, to Ascertain the Most Practicable and Economical Route for a Railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean (12 vols., 1855–61). Several talented artists participated in the joint survey of the new boundary between the United States and Mexico, including Augustus de Vaudricourt (see PLATE 30), Arthur C. V. Schott, and John B. Wyess, whose work was published in William H. Emory's United States and Mexican Boundary Survey (2 vols., 1857–59), and Commissioner John Russell Bartlett, who published prints after his own facile watercolors in his Personal Narrative (2 vols., New York, 1854). Bartlett was also responsible for the visit of Henry C. Pratt, whose View of Smith's West Texas Ranch documents the future site of El Paso. Pratt also did portraits of a number of people while in the area, including John Russell Bartlett (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth), James Wiley Magoffin (Magoffin Home State Historical Park, El Paso), and Benjamin Franklin Coons (private collection). Carl Schuchard of San Antonio covered much of the same territory for the Texas Western Railroad, a private venture that failed but nevertheless published Andrew B. Gray's route survey, Southern Pacific Railroad: Survey of a Route for the Southern Pacific R.R., on the 32nd Parallel (1856), including Schuchard's pictures along the road from San Antonio to El Paso and beyond. The federal military presence on the frontier also resulted in pictures—from works of the well-known Seth Eastman (see PLATE 17), who served briefly at Fort Martin Scott, near Fredericksburg, and Capt. Arthur T. Lee (see PLATE 19), who helped establish Fort Davis in far West Texas in 1855, to those of the elusive Leon Trousset, who made sketches of Fort Davis and Fort Stockton, perhaps on commission for the government.

Other artists came either with increased immigration or because of it. Sarah Ann Hardinge arrived in Texas in 1852 in search of land that her brother had left her; she sketched, for her own and her family's enjoyment, various scenes of the country and each place where her family resided--Jacob de Cordova's plantation, Seguin (see PLATE 21), San Antonio, Austin, and several other plantations in the Seguin and Wilson County area. Louis Hoppe, on the other hand, might have been an itinerant laborer who worked on the two farms that he pictured in small but precise watercolors in the south central Texas communities of La Grange and Frelsburg (see PLATE 24). British artist Thomas Flintoff is an example of one who came hoping to find customers among the newly prosperous planters and businessmen who would pay him to paint their portraits. He spent most of 1852 in Texas, producing likenesses of individuals such as Pryor and Mary Bryan, Thomas Jefferson Chambers and his wife, Annie, and, posthumously, Stephen F. Austin and Edward Burleson. On his own he painted a series of watercolors of Houston (see PLATE 22), Matagorda, Indianola, and Corpus Christi, pictures that reveal the historic look of these early communities, which, like Hardinge's and Hoppe's pictures, were not known until their owners revealed them in relatively recent years. Some artists produced historically valuable images even though they only passed through the state. Austrian Franz Hölzlhuber, on a trip from his temporary home in Minnesota, visited Texas and Louisiana as part of a tour of the South and produced unique depictions of slaves harvesting sugarcane in East Texas or Louisiana (see PLATE 25) and two scenes of what might well be a portion of the Big Thicket. Helmuth H. D. Holtz sketched Indianola and Matagorda, probably from his vantage point on the bark Texana in the harbors, and had his paintings lithographed in Germany. An unknown artist submitted drawings of Galveston, San Antonio, and New Braunfels for inclusion in Herman J. Meyer's Universum, a compendium of world views that was published in twenty-four volumes in Hildurghausen between 1835 and 1860. And C. O. Bahr published his bird's-eye view of Galveston in Dresden, probably about 1860. Approximately half of the artists who came to Texas during these years were trained, and the others were self-taught.

Civil War. Texas was appropriately called the "dark corner" of the Confederacy, for few Civil War battles took place within its borders and only a few artists were present to document them and the other events of the years 1861–65. Unnamed artists published a series of illustrations of Texas forts in Harper's Weekly in 1861. Another unnamed artist, probably Iwonski, sent a series of drawings to Harper's as the war began. The most famous one shows the surrender of the Union Army in Texas to Confederate colonel Ben McCulloch in San Antonio. Iwonski's genre portrait of Samuel Maverick, Jr., as a member of the Eighth Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers) captures all the enthusiasm that many Texans felt for the war (see PLATE 33), while C. H. Claus's naïve painting of the battle of the Nueces (Fredericksburg Historical Society) in 1862, coupled with a subsequent illustration in Harper's, depicts one of the saddest moments of the war, when a group of Confederate soldiers massacred most of a group of German Unionists who were trying to go to Mexico rather than remain in Confederate Texas. Another unfortunate episode of the war is shown in James S. McClain's lithograph Camp Ford Texas (ca. 1865), the prison that the Confederacy maintained at Tyler.

The Gilded Age. At least four trends are noticeable between 1865 and 1900: the large number of artists who produced lithograph bird's-eye views of cities, an interest in history painting, the emergence of Texas-born artists, and the evolution of the most popular of all Texas characters, the cowboy. The bird's-eye craze affected not just Texas, but swept the country during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Almost 5,000 such views were produced of North American cities during these years by more than fifty identified artists working out of twelve different cities across the nation. Perhaps as many as seven of these artists drew more than fifty lithographs of Texas cities. Although there are a number of views of Texas cities that predate the Civil War, such as Rohrdorf's New Braunfels, Lungkwitz's San Antonio, and Bähr's Galveston, Camille N. Drie, probably from St. Louis, began the genre in Texas with his 1871 view of Galveston. Typically, the artist showed his sketches to the local newspaper editor, who announced to the community that the artist would produce a view of their city if there were enough subscriptions. The artist would draw the view and send it back to a lithographic plant in St. Louis or Milwaukee and move on to the next city. Six months or so later, the finished views would be delivered to the customers. Perhaps as many as 200 or 300 lithographs would be printed and usually colored by hand; in some cases, such as the 1891 view of Fort Worth, merchants purchased additional copies to use as advertisements and as many as 1,000 were printed. Augustus Koch, a German immigrant who lived in Wisconsin and the most prolific of the Texas bird's-eye-view artists, produced nineteen Texas views between 1873 and 1898. Herman Brosius, probably from Wisconsin, did four Texas views in 1872–73, midwesterner D. D. Morse did three in 1876, Henry W. Wellge of Milwaukee did nine between 1881 and 1895, and Thaddeus M. Fowler of Pennsylvania did thirteen in 1890–91. Denison is the most frequently portrayed city in the state, with four lithographs (by Brosius, 1872, Morse, 1876, Wellge, 1885, and Fowler, 1891). There are three prints each of Austin, Fort Worth, Galveston, and San Antonio.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Texas Revolution in 1886 stimulated most of the history painting, as artists competed to commemorate the heroes of the revolution and sell their paintings to the state for the new Capitol. The two most important history painters were Henry A. McArdle and William H. Huddle; works of both hang in the Capitol today. Theodore Gentilz, Robert J. Onderdonk, and L. M. D. Guillaume painted important works, and Louis Eyth supplied well-known illustrations for several of historian James T. DeShields's books. Huddle's most important painting is the The Surrender of Santa Anna (see PLATE 37). McArdle's two most significant works, Dawn at the Alamo (see PLATE 38) and The Battle of San Jacinto (1895), hang in the Texas Senate chamber. Onderdonk's The Fall of the Alamo or Crockett's Last Stand hangs in the hall of the Governor's Mansion. Huddle also painted the portraits of many Texas presidents and governors that hang in the Capitol. The Semicentennial of Texas Independence also called attention to some emerging native-born artists, most notably nineteen-year-old Stephen Seymour Thomas of San Augustine (see PLATE 40), who won an award of merit at the 1887 State Fair of Texas. It was the beginning of a notable career. Thomas, who was known mostly for his portraits, studied in Paris, where he later made his home. He painted dozens of portraits of distinguished sitters and developed an international reputation that culminated with an exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum in 1935. Other Texas-born artists who had begun to receive some measure of fame by the last decades of the century were Ida Weisselberg Hadra of San Antonio (see PLATE 36), who had studied with Hermann Lungkwitz, and Boyer Gonzales, Sr., of Galveston, who befriended the famous American artist Winslow Homer.

Sculptors also benefited from the desire to honor the founders of the republic. No one knows why the gifted German sculptor Elisabet Ney moved to the state in 1872, but she settled on Liendo Plantation near Hempstead with her husband, scientist and philosopher Edmund D. Montgomery and proceeded to manage the plantation and raise her son. As the new Capitol began to take shape, she contacted Governor Oran M. Roberts, a family friend, and presented him with a proposal for sculpture throughout the new building. Roberts recommended the proposal, but in the end all sculpture except the Goddess of Liberty for the top of the dome was stripped from the plan, and that contract went to a Chicago monument company. Almost a decade later, Ney won a commission from the World's Fair Exhibit Association, a group of women who had organized to see that the state would be properly represented at the coming World's Fair in Chicago in 1893. Ney moved to Austin and built a studio in a suburban addition to the city, Hyde Park, where it remains today as a museum. She agreed to execute statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for the Texas exhibit but finished only the statue of Houston in time for the fair. In 1901 she received commissions for marble sculptures of both Austin and Houston for the state Capitol and for the National Statuary Hall in the national Capitol. Later that year she also received the commission for the recumbent statue of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston that is now in the State Cemetery. Ney expected to receive other commissions as various organizations prepared to honor the state's forebears, but was disappointed when in 1899 the Texas Confederate Veterans commission for a massive memorial went to a young Italian sculptor from New York. The bronzes that Pompeo Coppini produced for the memorial made his reputation in Texas; thereafter, he received numerous commissions from the state and other parties. Among his best known works are the Littlefield Fountain Memorial at the University of Texas at Austin, the bronzes of the Texas heroes in the Hall of State in Dallas, and the Alamo Cenotaph in San Antonio.

One of the most popular characters in history also emerged from this period, first on the pages of Harper's Weekly and Leslie's Illustrated, then on the easels of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, among others. Some of the earliest pictures of the Texas vaquero, or the cowboy, surely are the roping seen in A Visit to Texas (1834) and William Ranney's paintings done in 1846 and based on his Texas experience of a decade before. But the cowboy did not become a popular figure until the 1860s and 1870s, when hundreds if not thousands of cowboys were herding cattle up the Western, Chisholm, and Shawnee trails. Such artists as A. R. Waud, William M. Cary, Paul Frenzeny, and Jules Tavernier published sketches in Harper's Weekly, and cowboy authors such as Charles Siringo (A Texas Cow Boy, 1885) wrote about the experience. Remington and Russell, working out of New York and Montana respectively, went on to make the cowboy a national icon. In Texas, meanwhile, Frank Reaugh, who had arrived in Terrell with his family in 1876 and moved to Dallas in 1890, was popularizing longhorn cattle in much the same way that Onderdonk did the bluebonnet (see PLATE 45). Both Gutzon Borglum and Alexander Phimister Proctor, well-known American sculptors, continued the cowboy theme for several Texas works. The Trail Drivers Association commissioned Borglum to do Texas Cowboys (Trail Drivers Monument) (1925) as a memorial to the trail drivers, and Proctor's famous Mustangs (1939–40) is a prominent bronze on the UT Austin campus. Proctor also did Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Soldier (1935–36) for Lee Park in Dallas.

The early twentieth century. Aware that Texas was not a hospitable place for artists, a number of communities set out to produce a more favorable atmosphere for the arts as the twentieth century dawned. Robert Onderdonk (see PLATE 44) had founded the first art association in San Antonio, the Van Dyke Art Club, in 1886. When he moved to Dallas, he founded the Dallas Art Students League in 1893. Other cities followed suit. The Houston Public School Art League was founded in 1900, and in Austin the Texas Fine Arts Association was organized in 1911. The public libraries in such cities as Fort Worth sponsored art exhibitions from the turn of the century. No longer would Texas-born artists such as Seymour Thomas of San Augustine, Julian Onderdonk of San Antonio, Murray P. Bewley of Fort Worth (see PLATE 48), and Royston Nave of La Grange have to grow up in such an unsupportive environment. While art organizations struggled to organize throughout the state, one of the nation's most talented painters was creating a new and modern vision of the West Texas landscape. Georgia O'Keeffe, a young Wisconsin woman who had studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in New York and who taught at West Texas State Normal School in Canyon, incorporated the stark plains of the Panhandle into her developing aesthetic and produced startlingly new images that took New York by storm (see PLATE 46). "I lived on the plains of North Texas for four years," she later recalled. "It is the only place I have ever felt that I really belonged—that I really felt at home....That was my country—terrible winds and a wonderful emptiness." After successful exhibitions, she soon moved to New York City, where she married Alfred Stieglitz, who recognized her unique talent. After Stieglitz's death, O'Keeffe settled in New Mexico, where she continued to depict the elemental beauty of the land in distinctive ways until her death in 1986.

The Great Depression and World War II. Disenchanted by World War I, artists such as Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri traveled across the country in search of authentic subjects. In Texas Benton depicted the changing economy that the discovery of oil initiated. In Cattle Loading, West Texas (Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, 1930) he portrayed the death of the Old West and its ways, which had "gone beyond recall." On the other hand, Boom Town (Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 1928; see PLATE 55), a caricature of Borger in 1926, captures the raucous energy of the "traditional...western boom town[s]," which "eventually [required] the Texas Rangers to straighten them all out." Further battered by the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, artists led in the national self-examination that resulted. Would our democratic and economic traditions survive their sternest test? Benton, John Stewart Curry of Kansas, and Grant Wood of Iowa led the national search for indigenous subjects with which to explain America to itself. Jerry Bywaters (see PLATE 56) born in Paris, Texas, and educated at Southern Methodist University and in New York, Europe, and Mexico, led a number of talented young Texas artists in this search. The Dallas Art Institute became their gathering place after Olin Travis became director, and they soon composed a vibrant regional arts community. Bywaters, Otis Dozier of Lawson (see PLATE 54), William Lester of Graham, and Alexandre Hogue (see PLATE 68) of Denton painted and wrote about Texas and the Southwest in the new Southwest Review, published by SMU. Their search for Texas subjects led them back to their roots: to farm life and the landscape, people and animals, droughts and the Dust Bowl. After the establishment of the federal Public Works of Art Project in 1933, these artists turned to murals of the "American Scene": art that John S. Ankeney, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and of Region 12 of the PWAP explained, would be "taken from our actual existence and environment," that "would be salient and socially significant," and that would be accessible to all Americans. What the New Deal administrators had in mind was the eminently successful Mexican mural program of the 1920s, in which young artists covered the public buildings of Mexico City with colorful paintings. Bywaters, who had seen the Mexican muralists at work, thought that the Dallas painters had an unprecedented opportunity to interpret Texas life as only natives could.

The PWAP and the subsequent Federal Art Project, a part of the Work Projects Administration, put unemployed Texas artists to work. Bywaters and Hogue turned to the history of Dallas County for a mural in Old City Hall, including Tonkawa Indians, John Neely Bryan, early settlers, the French colony La Réunion, the coming of railroads, and the building of a modern city. Dozier painted Applied Biology and Pure Science for the library at Texas A&M, and other Dallas artists received commissions for murals all over the state. Bywaters explained how this new Texas art fitted into the national scene in an article in Southwest Review (April 1936). He, Hogue, and seven associates prepared an elaborate proposal for the new Hall of State, which was to be constructed in Fair Park in Dallas as a part of the Texas Centennial celebration in 1936. They were greatly disappointed when the main contract for the hall itself went to an experienced but conservative mural artist from New York, Edward Savage. Tom Lea (see PLATE 65), an El Paso artist, received the commission for the West Texas Room, Olin Travis for the East Texas Room, Arthur Starr Niendorff for the North Texas Room, and James Owne Mahoney for the South Texas Room. The Dallas Nine, as Bywaters and his group were soon called, felt justified when the jury for the Texas gallery of the Centennial art exhibition selected much of their work to exhibit. The icing on the aesthetic cake was the construction of a new Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Fair Park. In all, artists painted dozens of murals in public buildings in Texas as a part of various government programs.

When it appeared certain that the United States would enter World War II, Life magazine commissioned El Paso artist Tom Lea, who had done a number of post office murals, to do a series of portraits of American soldiers. Pleased with his work, Life employed him full-time as a war correspondent and sent him on a 100,000-mile trek during the next four years to document American involvement in England, North Africa, Italy, Egypt and the Middle East, India, and China. He was present for the marine landing on the Pacific island of Peleliu in September 1944 and ultimately produced more pictures than any of the other eight war artists that Life employed. After the war, he teamed up with El Paso designer Carl Hertzog to publish Peleliu Landing (El Paso, 1945).

Since World War II. By 1948 Fort Worth was the only city in Texas that could be said to have developed a "school" of artists—that is, as Dallas critic John Rosenfield, Jr., explained the term, "a homogeneous group representing a definitely advanced aesthetic and a high average of quality in practicing it." Such a school might have developed in Dallas had not so many of the Bywaters circle left to pursue their careers elsewhere: Spruce and Lester went to Austin to help establish the art department at the University of Texas, Hogue moved to Oklahoma, Bywaters became director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. But in Fort Worth, artists such as Bill Bomar, Bror Utter, Cynthia Brants, George Grammer, Flora and E. Dickson Reeder, Blanche McVeigh, and Evaline C. Sellors led the way to a new and modern aesthetic, one in which "the individual replaces the regional," as New York Times critic Aline Louchheim explained. The new Fort Worth Art Museum (now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth) resulted from the fervor. The University of Texas art department has attracted excellent artists over the years, but has not developed an "Austin school." According to Loren N. Mozley, former chairman of the department, the faculty produced art "like that which you might find anywhere in the world." Mozley himself was a painter of note, and Charles (Karl Julius) Umlauf was the best-known sculptor. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden near Zilker Park in Austin is his and his wife's gift to the city of Austin. John Thomas Biggers established the art department at the Texas State University for Negroes (later Texas Southern University) in 1949. A year later, Carroll Harris Simms, a sculptor, joined him. Both are Southerners, Biggers from North Carolina and Simms from Arkansas. Biggers taught his students to look to their African heritage, as well as their local communities, for inspiration. He painted murals based on black history and community life for various Houston organizations and traveled to Africa in 1957 to study his heritage. He published Ananse: The Web of Life in Africa (1962) as a result. Biggers began painting in a new style after his retirement in 1983. That same year he completed a mural to honor Christia V. Adair, a commission from the Harris county commissioners, and in 1987 he completed a series of paintings based on shotgun houses, the premier form of African-influenced architecture, in the Third Ward in Houston (see FOLK ARCHITECTURE, and PLATE 76). The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gave Biggers a retrospective exhibition in 1995.

Folk Painters. Perhaps half of the artists who came to Texas during the nineteenth century would be classified as folk artists-that is, persons who have not had formal training and whose art is often distinguished by traditional, ethnic expression, unaffected by the trends of academic art. William G. M. Samuel of San Antonio, Louis Hoppe, and Annie B. McMahon, who painted The Peter B. Faison Family (La Grange Garden Club) about 1890 would fit into that category. So would Charles A. A. Dellschau of Houston, although he might have considered himself more an aeronautical draftsman than an artist. Dellschau, a German, spent his first few years in America as draftsman for a group of scientists who formed the Sonora, California, Aero Club. After his retirement in Houston at the turn of the century, he began working on his airship designs again. The Sonora Aero Club members had experimented with aircraft and sought information about unidentified flying objects; Dellschau's designs probably were based on their speculations (see PLATE 52). His work remained unknown for more than half a century and still has not been fully appreciated for its complexity and design.

Most folk artists paint the people and things around them or from memory, and many of them do not begin painting until late in life. Frank Mudge Edwards (1855–1956), who did not begin painting until he was eighty years old, filled the walls of the stone home that he built himself with murals of his cowboying days. No one noticed the work of Harold O. Kelly of Blanket (see PLATE 61) until he contacted a professor at Howard Payne College to assist him in shipping some of his small canvases. The professor introduced him to Jerry Bywaters, who was at that time director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, and Bywaters arranged for an exhibition of Kelly's pictures in 1950. Kelly became the resident artist at the Texas State Fair. Clara McDonald (Aunt Clara) Williamson is perhaps the best known of the untutored artists who depicted life as it used to be in her native Iredell, Texas (see PLATE 62). After her husband died in 1943, she began to take art classes at SMU and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and painted "memory" pictures until her death in 1976. Velox Ward of Mount Vernon began painting at age sixty, when he decided to give his children a picture for Christmas (see PLATE 63). He tried to evoke "the good old days" of his rural boyhood shortly after the turn of the century. When Fannie Lou Spelce of Austin began taking art classes at Laguna Gloria Art Museum in 1966, her instructor realized her natural talent and suggested that she stop taking classes and paint as she wanted to. Her popular paintings include representations of quilting bees, the country store, fairs, strawberry-picking time, and other scenes from her childhood in Dyer, Arkansas. Eddie Arning's inspiration came from a different source. A resident of the Austin State Hospital, Arning made his first drawings in 1964 with crayons supplied by one of the attendants. As his vision developed he switched to oil pastels and began to improvise on illustrations that he saw in magazines. Consuelo (Chelo) González Amezcua of Del Rio gained her inspiration from the fine silver and gold filigree jewelry so popular in Mexico; the result was complex and vivid drawings that she made with colored ballpoint pens, which she called "filigree art." The fact that Texas has long since become an urban state is illustrated in the paintings of Frank Freed of Houston. A Harvard graduate, veteran of World War II, and an insurance salesman, Freed began painting seriously at age forty-two in 1948, producing naïvely drawn but complex and sophisticated canvases representing the frustration and perplexity of the times, such as Climate of Opinion, now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The "threat" of modern art. Despite the enthusiastic acceptance of modern art by some Texas artists, the transition did not come without complaint. Battered by a series of incidents and exposures after World War II—the Berlin blockade, the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia, the fall of China to Communist forces, the Soviet explosion of the atomic bomb and the subsequent exposure of successful spying on the part of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, among others—many Texans became prey to the excesses of anti-Communists brought on in part by Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy, who campaigned tirelessly against Communist infiltration into government, education, and other institutions. In Houston the school board voted not to accept federal aid for lunches, and one aggressive assistant superintendent took it upon himself to remove all the art books that contained pictures of nudes from the high school libraries. In Dallas, Bywaters, as director of the museum, had kept up with such incidents throughout the country—in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, and Hollywood—all involving an attack upon the arts or the arts organizations. To Bywaters modern art seemed to be an easy target, so when the normally sedate Public Affairs Luncheon Club of Dallas issued a statement on March 15, 1955, declaring that the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts was "overemphasizing all phases of futuristic, modernistic, and non-objective painting and statuary," he urged that the trustees appoint a committee to deal with the complaint. Hoping that the matter would go away, the trustees declined to act. But the opposition would not go away, because it was well financed by such determined individuals as oilman Harold Lafayette Hunt. The following year the director of the public library removed a rug and a painting by Pablo Picasso from an exhibition rather than "stir up a lot of controversy." Bywaters also discovered that what one writer called the "Emily Post-Impressionist School of Bluebonnet Painters" was behind the denunciations, as local art clubs, such as the Frank Reaugh Club, the Klepper Club, the Federation of Dallas Artists, the Bassett Club, and the Oak Cliff Fine Arts Society joined the Dallas County Patriotic Council to demand that certain kinds of modern art not be exhibited in the museum. Reveau Bassett, one of the most outspoken of the museum's critics and a successful landscape painter who had frequently exhibited in the museum, vilified equally the Communists and expressionist, cubist, and futurist artists. Like many other citizens, Bassett combined whatever he did not like with the Communist threat, finally denouncing the museum for exhibiting the work of "commie artists" while not giving "good American artists...a chance." Bywaters and the board successfully resisted the demand to stop exhibiting modern art, but one of the casualties of the turmoil was the Museum for Contemporary Arts, which was founded in 1957 but closed its doors and merged with the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in 1962.

Needless to say, this was not the best environment in which to study or paint modern art, and two of the most outstanding artists to come from Texas left to pursue their careers on opposite coasts. Morris Graves was born in Oregon and went to sea before landing in Beaumont, Texas, where he finished high school. His classmates there remembered him as a quiet young man who made drawings for the high school annual in 1932. He returned to the West Coast because of the hardships of the depression and finally got a job with the Federal Art Project in Los Angeles. His Message series of paintings, exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1939, established him as one of the most important artists working in America. A member of the so-called Pacific Northwest Painters, Graves traveled and studied in China and Japan, and the impact of Oriental philosophy as well as style is evident in his mysterious paintings. Fish Reflected upon Outer and Mental Space (Amon Carter Museum, ca. 1943) is characteristic of his work, which he described as notations about the outside world "with which to verify the inner eye." One of the artists who had the most impact on his peers during the 1960s was Robert Rauschenberg from Port Arthur. Even in the 1990s Rauschenberg said that he did his best work in a hot, damp climate like Port Arthur's and noted that it was his suspension from the University of Texas—because, having kept frogs as pets, he refused to dissect a live frog in anatomy class—that sent him from the state when he was drafted into World War II. After the war and study at the Kansas City Art Institute, Rauschenberg went to Paris, then returned to study at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Shortly after he arrived in New York in 1949, he established his reputation with works of art that he called "combines," made out of found objects—junk—thereby inspiring much of the pop-art movement. By the 1960s, the glut of popular culture images—television, film, photographs, printed matter—and boredom with traditional techniques had inspired him to begin making silkscreens of various images that appeared to be collages. Rodeo Palace (1975–76) is a nostalgic tribute to his Texas roots, conceived for an exhibition in honor of the annual Fort Worth rodeo at the Southwestern Exposition and Fat Stock Show. But his acknowledged masterpiece is Retrospective I (1964), a complex gathering of images including President Kennedy at a press conference that reminds one of the flicker of the nearly inescapable television screen. The premier representation of pop art in Texas is probably Cadillac Ranch (1981), which the Ant Farm produced on commission from Amarillo businessman Stanley Marsh III.

In Austin, meanwhile, Dave Hickey had assembled a group of young Texas artists and established a gallery that he hoped would permit them the freedom of expression to create their visions and not paint or sculpt Texas subjects per se. For four years during the 1960s, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, which took its name from a San Francisco bookstore (thence from a short story by Ernest Hemingway), was an exciting place to be. Barry Buxkamper, Terry Allen, Jim Franklin (see PLATE 72), Fred and Glenn Whitehead, Luis Jiménez (see PLATE 74), George Green, Bob Wade, Mel Casas (see PLATE 69), Jack Boynton (see PLATE 71), and others became a part of this experiment, which in retrospect Hickey acknowledged was ahead of its time. They attracted national attention, and some of their images live on, such as the ubiquitous armadillo that Glen Whitehead and Jim Franklin conjured.

Isolation, that characteristic of Texas that made it so difficult for artists to communicate and to inspire each other during the earlier years, finally led an outstanding American sculptor, Donald C. Judd, to leave New York in 1976 and settle in the West Texas community of Marfa. With the support of the Zia Foundation of New York, he took over the grounds of Fort D. A. Russell, thus ensuring that he had plenty of solitude and room for his large minimalist sculptures. Judd's paintings were included in a number of exhibitions, and he wrote art reviews for several journals. In 1960–62 he began the transition from painter to sculptor, finding satisfaction in the clearly defined forms, smooth surfaces, and visual clarity that he was able to achieve in his large pieces, which he usually made from light-reflecting industrial metals such as brass, copper, stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and plexiglass. Judd remained in Marfa until his death in 1994. See also ARCHITECTURE, MUSEUMS, URBANIZATION.

John Biggers and Carroll Simms, with John Edward Weems, Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978). William H. Goetzmann and Becky Duval Reese, Texas Images and Visions (Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1983). Patricia D. Hendricks and Becky D. Reese, A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889–1989 (Huntington Art Gallery, University of Texas at Austin, 1989). Pauline A. Pinckney, Painting in Texas: The Nineteenth Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967). Sam DeShong Ratcliffe, Painting Texas History to 1900 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992). Cecilia Steinfeldt, Art for History's Sake: The Texas Collection of the Witte Museum (Austin: Texas State Historical Association for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio Museum Association, 1993). Cecilia Steinfeldt, Texas Folk Art: One Hundred Fifty Years of the Southwestern Tradition (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1981). Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism (Austin: Texas Monthly Press, 1985). Alvia J. Wardlaw et al., The Art of John Biggers: View from the Upper Room (Houston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1995).

  • Peoples
  • French
  • Visual Arts
  • Germans
  • Arts and Crafts
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Ron Tyler, “Visual Arts,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 24, 2022