Cowtown Culture: Art in Fort Worth

Fort Worth does its best to retain an old-time western image, playing up its “real Texas” personality in contrast to its shiny big sister Dallas next door. It’s the kind of place you come if you want to go to a giant honky-tonk, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, or the old stockyards, the last of which have now been revived as a hub where tourists can eat, drink, and go see a rodeo at the old Cowtown Coliseum:


But Fort Worth also has a large cultural district, filled with museums and art galleries and parks. It’s clear that as long as there has been wealth in Forth Worth — which started in 1902 with the growth of the meat packing industry and grew with the discovery of nearby oil in 1917 — there have been citizens interested in using their newfound fortunes for collecting. One such family was the Kimbells, who had amassed enough British and French portraiture by 1936 that they were ready to start their own art foundation. Interested in human expression, the Kimbells had collected pieces such as The Rommel Pot Player by Frans Hals (side note: a rommel pot is made of a pig’s bladder stretched over a jar that’s half-filled with water)…


… and the Cardsharps by Caravaggio:


In 1972, the Kimbell’s collection became the heart of the Kimbell Art Museum.

A visit to this museum begins in a long, quiet space — the first of many hallways you’ll enter designed by architect Louis Kahn (who also designed Yale’s Center for British Art). The view as you go up the stairs to the exhibits gives you some sense of the architectural wonder of the place:


Kahn designed this museum as a series of vaulted bays. From the outside, these look like giant boxes (and when there’s a grey sky, they don’t look especially welcoming)…


… but inside, these vaults offer a beautiful shape and light to the museum-going experience:


The architecture also allows for literal windows on some of the art (here, you see L’Air by Aristide Maillol in the courtyard outside):


The Kimbell has a small but excellent permanent collection — and it’s always free. They also have a regular rotation of special exhibitions, but I caught them between exhibits — which was fine, because if you only have two hours, you’ll have just enough time to make it through most of the permanent spaces.

While the museum is organized geographically (the focus is heavily European, but there are also spaces for Asia and for Africa, Oceania, and the Americans), I found that the compact nature of the museum made it easy to see connections across cultures. For example, while the Kimbell doesn’t necessarily specialize in sculpture, it has just enough pieces to allow one to study the human face and figure across space and time. This female form, the oldest piece in the museum (circa 2500-2300 BC), hails from the Cyclades Islands of Greece:


But as our docent noted, by 1913, Amedeo Modigliani was developing human heads in a remarkably similar way:


Elsewhere around the world, we have the human body represented in figures like this Haniwa (circle of clay) funerary man from Japan (c. 500 AD)…


… this court lady from China’s Tang Dynasty …img_8965… and this king, or Oba, from late 18th century Nigeria:


The museum shows that gods can have humanesque forms, too, such as Cociyo, the Zapotec God of Rain and Lightning …


… these Assyrian winged deities …


… and the Hindu god Ganesha:


You can compare landscapes, too, from this French portrayal of the late 1600s …


Claude Lorrain’s Pastoral Landscape

… to this one from China of about the same time …


Dong Qichang’s Steep Mountains and Silent Waters

… and to a very different French interpretation of the late 1800s:


Paul Cezanne’s Maison Maria with a View of the Chateau Noir

You can even compare demons across cultures. Here is the Torment of St. Anthony, one of the first known paintings by Michelangelo. He created this when he was about twelve or thirteen — and while it’s a copy of a German etching, it’s still impressive:


From Japan, the museum offers a very different (but clearly related) demon in Soga Shohaku’s Shoki Ensnaring a Demon in a Spiderweb:


When I wasn’t studying the artwork, I was just enjoying it. Some of my top picks from this museum included Gustave Caillebotte’s On the Pont de l’Europe …


… Georges de la Tour’s The Cheat With the Ace of Clubs


… Pieter Saenredam’s Interior of the Buurkerk, Utrecht


… and Jacques de Gheyn’s Vase of Flowers:


Two other pieces of note at the Kimbell are this painting (by Turner) …


…and this sculpture (by Romano)…


…both of which were stolen from Jewish families by the Nazis at the outset of World War II. According to my tour guide, the Kimbells acquired both pieces after the war with no knowledge of this fact. But once they learned of the pieces’ provenance, they returned the pieces to the original owners — and then bought them back for the collection.

If all of this art is too old for your tastes, you can head across the street to The Modern.  Here you’ll find all sorts of contemporary art …


… and you can also have lunch in their lovely restaurant, the Cafe Modern (I would recommend the beet, avocado, and grapefruit salad).

If you would rather be outdoors, it’s worth checking out the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. There’s not much in bloom in mid-January — just a few stray azaleas, a lot of pansies, a handful of poppies …


… and the last few winter roses …


… but it’s lovely just to be out in (organized) nature for an hour. I love that Fort Worth’s first public works project during the depression was to build a rose garden. The depression-era stonework still stands:


… and even though there isn’t much in bloom, you can still appreciate the landscaping of some of the gardens:


And if you need to come inside out of the cold, you can snuggle up with a hot chai as you admire the art on top of the drinks at Craftwork Coffee…


… or head for an excellent artisanal cocktail at The Usual, or contemplate creating art of your own at the wonderful West 7th Wool (you have to know how to knit for this to be a realistic option, but I’m sure they’d help you learn).


2 responses to “Cowtown Culture: Art in Fort Worth

    • I was in Fort Worth for a Mastery Transcript Consortium meeting and then visited colleges (TCU, SMU, U. North Texas, U. Oklahoma, UT Dallas). Great trip, but I had no idea it could get so cold in Texas!

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