Thanksgiving Feast

Two impressive shows highlight a cornucopia of historic regional paintings.

The Harmsens and their family attended a private unveiling of the collection earlier this week, but a public sneak preview of the booty, titled The Harmsen Collection: A Colorado Legacy, opens the day after Thanksgiving. The show is installed on the DAM's seventh floor.

The first painting visitors will see as they approach the Adolph Coors Foundation Gallery, one of two galleries in which the Harmsen Collection has been ensconced, is "Rabbit Hunt," an undated (though it's probably from the 1920s or '30s) oil-on-canvas painting by E. Martin Hennings. A horse and rider dominate the composition. In the foreground are two Indians conversing, in the background are two more horsemen, and beyond are purple mountains with purple storm clouds above. The DAM used this painting in a variety of publicity materials for the show, including billboards, which is why curator Ann Daley chose to place it so that it can be seen way before visitors get to the Coors gallery. "I'm hoping people will see the painting, and then they'll be able to find their way to the show," she says.

Hennings is one of several New Mexico masters in the show, and the Harmsen collection is particularly strong in the Taos group. Several important paintings by other significant Taos painters flank the Hennings. To the left is "Eagle Fan," by Ernest Blumenschein, an undated -- though possibly from the 1930s -- oil-on-canvas portrait of an Indian holding an eagle-feather fan. It's a magnificent painting, and the colors are out of this world. To the right is a marvelous Oscar Berninghaus called "Morning Shade," probably from the '20s or '30s as well. All three paintings sport rich and dusty palettes juxtaposing purples with ochres, a combination that is solidly linked to the art colony in Taos.

"Pueblo Series, Acoma," by Raymond Jonson, oil on canvas.
"Pueblo Series, Acoma," by Raymond Jonson, oil on canvas.
"Untitled, Mining Town," by Charles Bunnell, oil on canvas.
"Untitled, Mining Town," by Charles Bunnell, oil on canvas.

Details

Through April 22, 720-865-5000

Colorado Landscapes and the New Age of Discovery
Through January 6
Loveland Museum and Gallery, 503 North Lincoln Avenue, Loveland
1-970-962-2410

Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway

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The classic realism of Hennings, Blumenschein and Berninghaus is in contrast to the striking early modernism of an incredible -- and gigantic, by the standards of the artist -- Marsden Hartley painting, "New Mexico Recollection #6." In this fabulous oil on canvas from 1922, a red mesa is transformed into an expressionistic fantasy. Even more dreamlike is the transcendental masterpiece "Pueblo Series, Acoma," a 1927 oil on canvas by Raymond Jonson.

I've seen a lot of these Harmsen paintings in various exhibits around the area over the last five years or so, but I have never seen this incredible Jonson before. It's staggering.

In the El Pomar Foundation Gallery are some extremely important nineteenth-century paintings, most notably George Catlin's "The Cutting Scene, Mandan O-kee-pa Ceremony," done in 1832. It's as non-decorative as is possible for a painting to be. It depicts a scene in which Mandan Indians are suspended from a timber by rawhide cords attached to splints that pierce their skin -- certainly not the kind of thing you'd want to hang in the dining room. "It showed real courage for the Harmsens to buy something like that," Daley says. ("The Cutting Scene" is actually one of four Catlin paintings depicting different phases of this Mandan ceremony; the other three are in the Anschutz collection and were included in last year's Painters of the American West at the DAM.) In this same early-nineteenth-century vein is Charles Bird King's "Eagle of Delight," a classical portrait of an Indian woman.

Further on in this second gallery are several more New Mexico artists, including a very handsome Walter Ufer piece paired with an even more handsome Victor Higgins work.

The paintings have been supplemented with various Native American artifacts, including a turn-of-the-last-century Apache storage basket, a Cree or Metis beaded leather vest, circa 1880, and two sets of sterling-silver figures, one Navajo, by Mary Morgan, the other Zuni, by Ida Poblano. These represent 1980s-era Indian jewelry-store metalwork.

The best thing about the Harmsen gift, however, is that Bill and Dorothy Harmsen -- who are both in their nineties -- were able to live long enough to see their collection where it belongs.


The Loveland Museum and Gallery is also fitted out in Western dress this winter with an incredible show called Colorado Landscapes and the New Age of Discovery. I know it's a long and fairly monotonous drive to Loveland, but this is really worth it, because it's quite a bit bigger than the Harmsen exhibit.

The Loveland show was conceived by guest curator Doug Erion, who also wrote and published a handsome, if fairly quirky, little catalogue that's a must for the home art-history library. It's chock-full of factual and biographical information about the included artists.

A collector and a painter, Erion's chief interest is Colorado art. "I'm provincial," he says, only half kidding. "I like American art and I like Colorado art." (I say "only half kidding" because Erion picked up some of his own Colorado paintings at places like Christie's, the famous New York auction house, which strikes me as a very non-provincial thing to do.)

For Colorado Landscapes, Erion has laid out local landscape painting from over the past hundred years or so, neatly segueing from romanticism to modernism in a series of mid-sized galleries. He begins with late-nineteenth-century East Coast artists like Thomas Moran, who was only passing through the state -- one of several "hit-and-run" artists, according to Erion. He then moves forward decade by decade, ending up with mid-twentieth-century artists such as Eve Drewelowe, who, like many in her generation, spent her entire career here.

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