Museum Preview | Crossing State Lines: Texas Art

Alexandre Hogue, Squaw Creek [1927], oil, 33 1/2 x 29 1/2. painting, southwest art.
Alexandre Hogue, Squaw Creek [1927], oil, 33 1/2 x 29 1/2.

By Alison de Lima Greene

The exhibit Crossing State Lines: Texas Art From the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is on view through March 11, 2001, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Following is an excerpt from the exhibit catalog.

The first generations of painters to make Texas their home sought to capture the specific quality of their environment. A modest realism characterized their work in opposition to the example set by such artist-explorers as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, whose monumental canvases embodied the aspirations of America’s western expansion. Julian Onderdonk was among a dynasty of painters that shaped Texas art in the first decades of this century. He received his initial training from his father, Robert Onderdonk, and enrolled at the Art Students League in New York in 1901; that summer he studied under William Merritt Chase at Shinnecock, Long Island. Following his appointment as art advisor to the State Fair of Texas in 1906, Onderdonk began to divide his time between New York and Texas, and in 1909 he returned permanently to San Antonio.

Sunlight and Shadow [see page 154] is characteristic of his landscape compositions. As the title indicates, Onderdonk’s first concern was to record the quality of light that animates the landscape, rather than any specific locale. While lacking the bluebonnets that came to be the artist’s identifying motif in later years, it is one of Onderdonk’s most accomplished early southwestern landscapes, and the combination of atmospheric effects and vivid color harmonies links this work to the international style of late 19th-century plein-air painting.

Julian Onderdonk, Sunlight and Shadow [1910], oil, 16 x 24. painting, southwest art.
Julian Onderdonk, Sunlight and Shadow [1910], oil, 16 x 24.

Raised in Denton, Alexandre Hogue studied at the Minneapolis College of Design, worked as a commercial artist in New York, traveled with Frank Reaugh to West Texas, and in 1920 began to visit Taos, where he became close friends with Ernest Blumenschein. Unlike Benton and other Midwest champions of regionalism, Hogue remained open to Modernist currents, writing admiringly of Rockwell Kent in 1929 for the Southwest Review.

Blumenschein’s and Kent’s rhythmic compositional cadences certainly influenced Hogue’s Squaw Creek; the landscape and fishermen are rendered with an illustrator’s eye for economy of line and silhouette. The setting is a YMCA camp near Glen Rose, south of Dallas, where Hogue led summer art classes in the mid-1920s. Hoping to see Glen Rose transformed into a second Taos, Hogue created this bucolic image of Squaw Creek to promote his aspirations for an artists’ colony in what he described as the “Queen of the Valley.”

Artists devoted to a sense of place offer a complex portrait of Texas, meditating not only on the character of the land but also our identity within it. As the geographer George F. Thompson, writing in 1997, summarized: “What do we mean by place? For those of us who can see, place is the visual composite of the history of an environment. And that environment is a combination of natural and cultural features and processes…. Place is a valuable way to explain who we are as individuals and who we are as a state and nation.”

Featured in “Museum Preview” October 2000