A Tour Through The Marjorie Merriweather Post Art Collection at South Plains College, Levelland, TX

To begin this post about the Post Art Exhibition, I must tell you I have absolutely no idea why every picture I have ever taken, in my entire life, slants towards the floor on the right. I must also apologize for any dreadfully blurry photos, and I will try to find a better image online to share, for those pictures. The day I visited, the lighting was kept low, to preserve the paintings, and it made getting good shots of them difficult. Most of the information about the paintings was gleaned from South Plains Colleges’ website about the permanent exhibit.

Before we begin, I would like to take a few minutes to say a special thanks to Ms. Latha Tucker, who was my guide to the exhibit that day. She was wonderful! She gave me a bit of back history about each picture or portrait, and even showed me a life-sized image of the potrait of Caroline at Brandenberg, before it was restored! It really highlighted what the effects of age and evolving conservation efforts can be on priceless art. She was incredibly nice to take several minutes out of her day as a college administrator to show me the collection!

I want to convey some additional information from the Collection’s website, here:

“Over the course of 44 years, the paintings of the Post Collection hung in the original Student Center, the Library and the Fine Arts Building.  Because of the size of the paintings, the entire collection has never been displayed in one location, until now. The construction of the 1,750 square foot art gallery addition to the Christine DeVitt Fine Arts Center in 2008 provided a permanent home for this unique collection that has awed, inspired and intrigued thousands of students and art patrons on the dusty plains of West Texas.

South Plains College is deeply indebted to the generosity of Marjorie Merriweather Post in providing this collection of fine art and allowing students and the community alike to experience and appreciate art in the way she did during her lifetime.”

Now, on to the art!

post exhibit duke

Granville, 2nd Earl of Gower
Sir Joshua Reynolds, appx., 1760

The Earl portrayed in this painting is believed to be Granville Leveson-Gower, the son of John, first Earl of Gower, though when the portrait was appraised in 1962, the possibility that it was someone else was brought forward. Granville was born August 4, 1721, and died October 26, 1803.  From 1747 to 1764 he sat in Parliament as member from Westminster and at various times was Lord Privy Seal, Lord Chamberlain and Lord President of the Council. He succeeded as second Earl of Gower in 1754 and was created Marquess of Stafford on March 1, 1786. He sat for Reynolds in 1760-1761.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) was an English Painter in the Grand Manner, who was the foremost portraitist of his day. He was born in Plympton, Devonshire, on July 16, 1723, the son of a cleric. He learned portraiture from Thomas Hudson, the most fashionable painter at the time in London. After three years traveling in Italy, he returned to London, where he soon attracted notice by his portraits of prominent persons. He came to be the first English painter to achieve social recognition for his artistic achievements.

When the Royal Academy of Arts was instituted in 1768, Reynolds was elected president and was knighted. In 1784, he succeeded Allan Ramsay as painter to the king. In the same year he exhibited his portrait of the English actor Sarah Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1784, Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California), probably his greatest portrait.

Reynolds is credited with more than 2,000 portraits. Stylistically, he was influenced by Michelangelo and the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. His portraits form the epitome of London society of his day. He died in London in February 23, 1792.

This portrait was purchased by Marjorie M. Post at the Sale of the Blakslee Collection in New York in 1915, reportedly for $4,000.

Prior to it being loaned to SPC, the portrait was examined in 1962 by Eric Waterhouse of the Barber Institute of Fine Art, Birmingham University, England. Professor Waterhouse, at the time, was a leading authority on Reynolds and his portraits. While he substantiated that the portrait was indeed a product of Reynolds’ studio, he was more inclined to identify the gentleman in the picture as James, 2nd Earl of Waldegrave (1715-1763).  His identification was based on its comparison to other portraits of Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl of Gower, and those of Lord Waldegrave who may have sat for the portrait in 1760-1761.

At the time the painting was loaned to South Plains College in February 1965, it was said to be the only Sir Joshua Reynolds portrait on public display west of the Mississippi River.

Mrs. Post officially gifted the painting to the College in May 1973.

Through a generous grant from The CH Foundation, the painting received restorative treatment in 2009.

post collection, queen, blurry

Caroline, Queen of George II
Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1716

This is another potrait I botched up, with it being terribly blurry. Aside from the images on the South Plains College website, that my computer cant seem to display, I was not able to find an exact copy online in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) database, Google Images, or Wikipedia. However, the NPG did have a very similar black and white image that was attributed to John Farber, Jr., and created in 1727 or later. I wonder if the Farber mezzotint might have been a copy of Sir Kneller’s earlier work? The orientation, background, jewelry and adornments are very similar.

This full-length portrait represents Caroline of Brandenberg-Ansbach, who became Queen Consort of England in 1727. Caroline (1683-1737) was the daughter of John Frederick, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach. Five years after her father’s death in 1687, her mother married Elector John George IV of Saxony, and Caroline lived with her mother at Dresden. Left an orphan in 1696, the girl lived at Berlin with her guardians, Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg, and his wife, Sophia Charlotte, daughter of Electress Sophia. At the age of twenty-two she married George Augustus, Electoral Prince of Hanover, by whom she had eight children, the eldest being Frederick. When her father-in-law George I became King of England in 1714, she and her consort went to England and shortly thereafter were invested as Prince and Princess of Wales. Thirteen years later, in 1727, George Augustus ascended the throne as George II.

When Mrs. Post acquired the painting, the sales catalogue attributed the painting to Allan Ramsay (1713-1784), who George III appointed Principal Painter to the king in 1767, long after Caroline died in 1737. However, when the painting underwent conservation treatment in 2009, two faded and deteriorated labels were discovered on the stretcher, which attributed the painting to Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723).  Kneller was the leading portrait painter in England during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and was court painter to Britist monarchs from Charles II to George I, a span of 43 years.

Kneller was born Gottfried Kniller in Lübeck, Germany. He studied in Leiden, but later became a pupil of Ferdinand Bol and Rembrandt in Amsterdam. After working in Rome, Venice and Hamburg, he came to England in 1674 at the invitation of the Duke of Monmouth. He was introduced to, and painted a portrait of, Charles II. Concentrating almost entirely on portraiture, he founded a studio which produced portraits on an almost industrial scale. His portraits set a pattern that was followed until Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth. When Sir Peter Lely died in 1680, Kneller was appointed Principal Painter to the Crown by Charles II.

In the 1690s, Kneller painted the Hampton Court Beauties depicting the most glamorous ladies-in-waiting of the Royal Court for which he received his knighthood from William III. Created a baronet by King George I, he was also head of the Kneller Academy of Painting and Drawing from 1711-1716 in London. Kneller died of fever in 1723. There is a strong likelihood that this portrait of a young Caroline was painted sometime after she and George Augustus arrived in England as Prince and Princess of Wales.

This portrait was part of the Collection of the Duke of Fife, Duff House, Banffshire, Scotland and was exhibited in the Guelph Exhibition in the New Gallery, London in 1891.

The painting was loaned to the College from Marjorie M. Post’s private collection in February 1965.  It was gifted to the college in May 1973.

Through a generous grant from the Helen Jones Foundation, the Caroline portrait received restorative treatment in 2009. The conservation process revealed that the painting had received later painted additions to the background drapery and to the sitter, perhaps in an attempt by an auction house to make the painting more desirable for sale. These later additions were removed, revealing Caroline’s classic features, as well as the original background.

This is the portrait Ms. Tucker shared with me, prior to restoration. You couldn’t even imagine the difference. At one point, some of the colors were even different!

post collection, arabia

The Sultan of Morocco on a Stallion
Charles Baskerville, Jr., 1927

I just totally butchered the horses’ headdress in this photo, and unfortunately, was unable to find a single copy of the image on Google Images or Wikipedia, or the National Potrait Gallery’s database.

Is it possible no one knows about this portrait, other than patrons of the Post Collection?

The portrait has an interesting bit of history.

The only 20th century artist represented in the collection, Charles Baskerville, Jr., was a prominent American portrait painter, illustrator, cartoonist, and muralist.  Named after his father, he was born in 1896 in Raleigh, N.C.

The younger Baskerville intended to become an architect, but interrupted his college years at Cornell University to join the Rainbow Division in World War I. After the war, he returned to Cornell and began to pursue a career in art. Upon graduation, he came to New York and achieved immediate success with drawings published in the day’s leading humor magazines.  In 1925, he was recruited by The New Yorker magazine to illustrate a night club column, where he used the pseudonym Top Hat.

Those prominent individuals who sat for Baskerville included Jawaharlad Nehru, Bernad Baruch, William S. Paley, the Duchess of Windsor, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, Richard Rogers, and Helen Hayes. He trekked by pony and foot through the Himalayas to Katmandu to paint the King of Nepal.

During World War II, Baskerville was designated the official portrait painter of the Army Air Forces.  As a lieutenant colonel, he traveled to the theaters of war to create more than 60 likenesses of officers and enlisted men that were exhibited widely and are on permanent exhibition at the Pentagon.

In his lifetime, he has had more than a dozen one-man shows in New York City and his work was exhibited at the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and the Chicago Art Institute.

As a muralist, he painted for private residences as well the Wall Street Club, the conference room of the Joint Committee on Military Affairs of the Senate and House and for the main lounge and ballroom of the ocean liner America

Baskerville was an acquaintance of Marjorie Post, and Mrs. Post built the ballroom of her Palm Beach, Florida, home, Mar-a-Lago, around his mural, The Sultan of Morocco on a Stallion.  Further research has revealed that Baskerville painted and signed a “copy” of this original for Mrs. Post to replace his original at the time of her gift to the College. Donald Trump now owns the home, and runs the Mar-a-Lago club from it, fitting for an artist who’s early works illustrated a night club column. Even in pictures of the estate, I did not come across one photo of this potrait. I wonder if the original mural is still there? I wonder if I could use this as an excuse to talk Donald Trump into a tour? (Like Donald Trump would give a retired Marine blogger 5 minutes of his time, lol,)

The painting was added to the collection and donated to the College in March 1966.

post collection, queen, blurry

Catherine the Great
Dowager Empress of Russia
Artist Unknown, 18th Century

This oil painting is a pastiche of an original portrait of the Russian Dowager Empress painted after she assumed the throne in 1762. It was common at the time for court artists to make copies of original portraits of monarchs for other royalty to display in their residences. On the back of the painting is an old label saying it had been in the collection of Prince Alexander Mikhailovitch Beloselsky (1752-1809). It was in all likelihood displayed in the grand and enormous Beloselsky-Belorzersky Palace on the Neva Prospeck in St. Petersburg, Russia, across from the imperial Anitchkov Palace.

Catherine the Great was Empress of Russia from 1762-1796. The Academy of Arts, reorganized in 1774 under Catherine II became the nursery of Russian artists. The Academy was a copy of that in Paris, even sending its professors to Paris to study. However, the majority of Russian artists of the period were peasants. At an early age, they were sent to study with a master, requiring them to work in the manner of the master. This is the reason so many fine portraits of the 18th century are attributed to unknown artists.

This painting was presented to the College in June 1968.

post collection napoleon, russia

Napoleon’s Retreat from Russia                                                                                                          Joseph Emmanuel van den Bussche, 1884

Joseph Emmanuel van den Bussche was a painter of “genre” and history. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1837 and died in Boitsfort near Brussels in 1908. He was a professor in Brussels. Emperor Napoleon was a favorite subject of van den Bussche. Two other paintings – Napoleon’s Battle at Waterloo and Laissez Passar L’Empereur – picture Napoleon in a historical context. Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812 was a major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars. The campaign reduced the French and allied invasion forces to a tiny fraction of their original strength.

This historical  painting was given to SPC in January 1966.

 post collection, picnicBacchanalian Feast Painting

Bacchanalian Feast
Artist Unknown, 18th Century

An excellent example of 18th century Italian genre art, this oil painting features the Roman god Bacchus in revelry with humans, satyrs and other mythical creatures. The painting was purchased by Marjorie M. Post’s father, C.W. Post in 1912 at the famous Galleria Borghese sale in Rome.  The Galleria Borghese dates back to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, nephew to Pope Paul V (1605), and a great collector of Italian sculpture and art. This painting was presented to the College by Mrs. Post in January 1966.

With the assistance of a generous grant from The CHFoundation, the painting underwent restorative treatment in 2011. While undergoing treatment, evidence was discovered that supports the probability that the painting is an original work of art by a single artist. Prior to treatment, it was believed the painting was a copy of other art and might have been painted by multiple artists.

post collection, hungarian village

Flemish Countryside
F. Van Paemel, 1780

This is a Flemish painting that depicts a genre scene in the landscape, a subject highly appreciated and expressed among Dutch artists during the late 18th century. It presents a narrative of celebration and play in the lives of common people. The landscape is the kind that enjoyed great popularity because its elements were so familiar, from the distant city in atmospheric perspective to the fluidity of brush stroke expressing foreground detail.

The painting was originally displayed in Mrs. Post’s Florida Mar-a-Lago Estate in the Pine Hall, along with four other paintings depicting similar genre scenes. The series of five paintings was purchased by Mrs. Post in the 1920s. This painting, the largest of the series, was given to the College in January, 1966.

post collection, hungarian

I botched getting a pix of the signage for this landscape, so that I cannot tell what it is. I did not see it on the website, either. I have a pretty good feeling it is Flemish, as the only other true landscape in the collection was Flemish. This, and the Russian portraits were particular favorites of mine–I guess I will have to visit the collection again, to figure out what it is!

It also appears I failed to get a picture of the Birds in Landscape, an oil painting by Carl Jutz, in 1860. It is possible it was away being restored, because I truly don’t recall it. It is also possible it was taken by the Smitshonian Institute, when they realized the only copy of it was in a tiny museum in Levelland, Texas. Ms. Tucker did mention that had happened to one piece. I can’t view the picture on the exhibit website, and get numerous pictures of birds when I use Google Images (nothing of which reminds me of my visit that day), and nothing when I try to pull up the artist in Wikipedia.

For information about the Post Art Collection and other scheduled exhibitions, contact:

Ippy Greer, Post Collection Curator
South Plains College Fine Arts Department
1401 S. College Ave.
Levelland, TX 79336
(806) 716-2261, (806) 716-2270

Email: igreer@southplainscollege.edu

For more information about the Post Art Restoration Project, contact:

Office of Institutional Advancement
South Plains College
1401 S. College Ave.
Levelland, TX 79336
(806) 716-2218, (806) 716-2217
Email: sjohn@southplainscollege.edu