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Title

: The Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection

Author

Robert Koehler

Date

1914

Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The first gift offered the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, after the erection of the new museum building was assured, came from Mrs. Charles Cranston Bovey. The desire to honor the memory of her father, the late Martin B. Koon, in a manner befitting the high esteem in which he will ever be held, because of his untiring efforts to further the material and spiritual progress of Minneapolis, very naturally found expression in the forming of an art collection to be placed where it would always serve as a source of pleasure and inspiration to those whose interest Judge Koon ever had at heart. Needless to say that this idea appealed with equal force to the remaining members of the family and Mrs. Charles Velie at once joined her sister in the undertaking.Martin VanBuren Koon was born at Altay, N.Y., on January 22, 1841, the son of Alanson and Marilla Wells Koon, farmers. Martin decided to become a lawyer and graduated from the law school at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, in 1863, being admitted to the Michigan bar five years later. In 1873 he married Josephine Van De Mark, and in 1879 took up his residence in Minneapolis, where he soon became prominent and was appointed judge of the Fourth Judicial District of Minnesota in 1883. His successful activity in public affairs is familiar history. With rare tact and perseverance he guided or aided many an undertaking for the betterment of local conditions, and his advice and assistance in questions concerning important municipal affairs were always eagerly sought. His last, and to us most important public activity, was the part he took in shaping the events which culminated in the establishment of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.It is interesting to recall that the papers filed for the purpose of incorporating the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts bear the signature and official stamp of Martin B. Koon, Public Notary, under date of January 31st, 1883. It therefore seemed but natural that he should be called upon to preside at the memorable event which opened a new and the most important chapter in the history of the Society twenty-eight years later: the banquet at the Minneapolis Club on the evening of January 10th, 1911, when the gift by Clinton Morrison of the old Morrison Homestead was offered, followed by Mr. Dunwoody’s offer of one hundred thousand dollars as a subscription to the proposed building fund. No one of those present at the event will ever forget with what rare skill and incomparable tact Judge Koon conducted the proceedings which resulted in securing pledges to the amount of three hundred and thirty-five thousand five hundred dollars in one short evening. Nor did his labors in behalf of this movement end here; it is largely owing to his efforts that the city procured the property of Senator Washburn, known as “Fair Oaks,” immediately fronting the Dorillus Morrison tract, for park purposes, thus securing for all time a most magnificent approach to the museum site.And therewith ended Martin B. Koon’s life’s labors. On August 20, 1912, after a brief illness, death claimed him.The memorial collection which his daughters have offered to establish will consist entirely of the works of American artists, selected under the advice of competent experts and with the proviso that anything now acquired may subsequently be exchanged for a better example of the artist’s work and that all works offered must be approved by the official committee of experts appointed by the Board of Trustees.Among the works thus far acquired by Mrs. Bovey, and listed on page 4 of the Bulletin, is the picture illustrated in this number. “The Yellow Flower” is a canvas by Robert Reid, formerly owned by the well known New York connoisseur, Mr. Wm. T. Evens. It shows the artist in one of his happiest moods. The graceful figure of a girl with reddish yellow hair, in a sitting posture, clad in light yellow skirt and diaphanous waist, with a scarf of similar material and a slightly more intense tint of yellow falling loosely from the shoulder. In her right hand she holds a yellow flower at which she is gazing, while her left arm drops in graceful line to her side. The background is formed by a light green meadow studded with yellow flowers, making the whole a charmingly decorative arrangement in yellow. The canvas measures 30 x 37 inches and is signed in the lower left hand corner (now covered by the frame): Robert Reid ’08.Robert Reid, the artist, was born in Stockbridge, Mass., July 29, 1862. His early training he received at the art school of the Boston Museum, where Benson and Tarbell were his fellow students; then he went to New York and later to Paris, entering the Julien Academy, remaining there four years. His first exhibition at the Salon was in 1886. Returning to America he gradually developed his careful study of light and atmosphere as these appealed to him in out-of-door subjects, with a strong emphasis on their purely decorative quality. His predilection found ample opportunity to assert itself in numerous mural paintings, to be found in the Boston State House, the Congressional Library, the Appelate Court in New York, and elsewhere.Reid’s greatest fondness, however, is for figures out of doors, such as the one in the present collection. A writer in the “International Studio” (February, 1909) has this to say:
“There are few figure subjects indoors like the ‘Open Fire’ (Corcoran Gallery at Washington) but figures out of doors and landscape have mostly attracted him. The highest point in his career up to the present has been reached in these pictures; they reveal the subtle and delicate beauty of nature in the spring and summer months and are painted with authority, with sureness of craftsmanship, and with a style which is distinctly his own. They are not only fine and important in themselves, but they promise much for the future, and you feel that he has not even yet grown to the full stature of his capacity.”
Another picture of rare quality in this collection is by the late John H. Twachtman, and is entitled “The White Bridge.” The canvas, which measures 30 inches in both height and width, “shows a green landscape in which a narrow river enters from the left foreground, winds partly across the picture, and back towards a low hill, where its course is lost in a profusion of foliage in the central distance. A slender, crooked and feathery tree on the nearer low bank in the foreground is of a light yellowish-green, and a darker, cone shaped evergreen tree grows near it at the foot of a higher, steep part of the bank. The grass of the entire bank is of a similar pale yellowish-green in the sunshine to the foliage of the slender tree and the other trees which toward the top of the picture obscure the sky. From the high bank a graceful white footbridge of gentle arch crosses the stream, which is filled with gray purplish brown reflections. The bridge is ornamented with an overhead arch, protecting its promenade. Signed in the lower right: J. H. Twachtman” (from the Evans Sale Catalogue).John H. Twachtman was an American artist who shared the sad fate of so many of his colleagues of not being appreciated until after his demise, and is now resting in a neglected grave at Gloucester, where a few sympathizing friends laid him to rest twelve years ago. He might easily have become a popular artist of his day, had he cared to devote his great ability to the production of works commonly approved; but he had an outspoken contempt for the prevailing fashion in art, and strove for an expression of his feeling for the finer qualities of nature that lent themselves to artistic representation, such as was at the command of Whistler, for instance, without, however, falling into the mistake of becoming a mere imitator. Twachtman had a decided style of his own, which, though built on a sympathetic study of the Impressionists, emulated the method of none of them. He was a student at Munich at the time when the American colony there embraced such men as Chase, Shirlaw, Duveneck, Dielman, Currier, Muhrman and many others; but he was not dwelling among them; for their various ideas of painting were not his ideas—and still every on of them admired him for that independence of thought, and expected to see him achieve success in his own way. After his marriage he went to Paris, where he found more inspiration; but his genius ripened at home in America, where he accomplished really his best work and together with nine other advanced men, organized the group known as the “Ten American Painters,” whose exhibitions were for some time the annual “artistic events” in New York. For Twachtman they continued to mean the fullest appreciation by his artist friends and an occasional sale to a wise collector—nothing more. It is the truest test of the sincerity of his convictions that he continued to the last to travel his own road, even though he might have felt it hopeless to ever secure a larger appreciative following in his life time.John Henry Twachtman was born at Cincinnati, Ohio, August 4, 1853. He began his studies at the National Academy of Design in New York, and later went to Munich, where he joined the group of young men that gathered around Duveneck, following him to Venice and Florence. Then, in Paris, he was a student at the Academie Julien for a while, drawing the figure under Boulanger and Lefebvre, simply as a means of developing his sense of form, without, however attempting to make the art of either of these masters his own.Among the tributes paid Twachtman by his fellow artists the following are very significant. J. Alden Weir says: “To my mind, he was in advance of his age to the extent that like many others, he lived ahead of his epoch.”Robert Reid says: “He painted, as all men have done who have made great art, he painted the atmosphere of his time.”Edward Simmons writes: “In the death of John H. Twachtman we lose one of our best landscape painters. . . . The canvasses which Twachtman has left us, like all work of signally original merit, may prove for a time too fine a food for the general palate.”Belonging to the same group of American impressionists with Twachtman, though different in method and feeling, is Childe Hassam, whose painting “Isles of Shoals” will be found in the same collection. The upper Atlantic coast has been a favorite sketching ground of Hassam’s, and he has found the picturesque rocks at high tide and at low tide an inexhaustible mine for his brush. Our picture if described in the Evan’s Catalogue as follows:
“The sunshine is bright over a turquoise sea, though far away toward the high horizon a light summer haze is suggested. In the foreground the water works its way among irregular low rocks of the shoreline, which extends outward on the left, where the Isles of Shoals are seen across a grassy and rocky point. The rippling water in the foreground shallows, the weathered and colorful rocks, and the varied herbage of the point, all are iridescent and coruscating in the brilliant sunlight. A sailboat is seen offshore, and another far in the distance beyond the Isles. A few lavender-pink cloud patches float in the yellowish-gray sky.Signed at the lower left, Childe Hassam, 1889.”
Childe Hassam was born in Boston, October 17, 1859, and began his studies at the art school of the Boston Museum, going afterwards to Paris, where he applied himself to a severe academic drill. But the art principles of the impressionists soon appealed to him with irresistible force, and he found in the technique of Claude Monet an ideal mode of expression, and has therein achieved his greatest artistic success. Our picture of the “Isles of Shoals,” one of a number painted in this locality, is a thoroughly characteristic example of Childe Hassam’s art.The art of Charles Melville Dewey differs decidedly from that of the foregoing, and receives its inspiration from the great masters of the pre-impressionists period. In Dewey’s painting “Homeward” we are invited to share the artist’s love of evening quietude; the sun has disappeared below the horizon, leaving the scene enveloped in mellow red rays, the warm reflections of his departing glory. To the right of the canvas a small grove of trees is wrapped in shadow, while to the left a farmhouse is seen from the chimney of which smoke is curling gently upwards. In the foreground, still dimly lighted, a shepherd is driving his flock of sheep homeward, while out of the evening mists in the far distance the pale orb of the full moon is arising. Calm and quietude breathe in every inch of the canvas, and we are prone to live in peace with the world that offers so soothing a haven after the day’s restless struggles.The artist was born in Lowville, New York, July 16, 1851. He began his studies at the National Academy and went to Paris in 1876, where he became a pupil of Carolus Duran, assisting his master in the decoration of the ceiling of the Louvre. Since his return to New York in 1878 he has devoted himself mainly, if not exclusively, to landscape painting, delighting especially in morning and evening effects, as exemplified in the picture chosen for our gallery.In striking contrast to all the foregoing is the work of Gari Melchers, whose painting “Marriage” was acquired by Mrs. Bovey for this collection.Melchers is, without doubt, one of the most striking individualities among our American artists. Without entering into the question of how much art is American, we may calmly grant its European origin; but upon closer inquiry we shall find nevertheless that it holds a position of its own even when compared with French and Dutch painting, whence it found its inspiration, and that it is therefore the direct expression of an American artist. In its straightforwardness, its complete avoidance of sentimentality and prettiness, it differs strongly from the great mass of work by the best known figure painters of our country and is in closer sympathy with the younger men of our times, from whom popular appreciation is still so persistently withheld.The “Marriage” represent a youthful Dutch couple, evidently of modest rank, in their wedding finery and about to be married. The young man, scarcely more than a boy, is somewhat ill at ease though trying to appear natural, while the girl-bride in her embarrassment hardly dares betray any feeling of happiness.The canvas, which measures 24 x 34 inches, is painted in Melchers’ strong, realistic manner. The white dress of the bride and the black coat of the bridegroom are relieved against a background of light, pompejan red. A deep note of red is formed by the prayer book, which, together with a bunch of orange-blossoms, the bride is holding in her white-gloved hand. The head of the girl, from which the bridal veil falls in transparent folds and on which rests a wreath of orange blossoms, is very carefully modeled, while the drapery is treated with more breadth and dash, but with due regard to the nature of the material.Gari Melchers was born in Detroit, Michigan, August 11th, 1860. His artistic ability asserted itself early, and when he had reached the age of 17, he went to Germany, taking up his studies at Dusseldorf, under Eduard von Gebhard. Later he went to Paris, where, at the Academie Julien, he received the customary advice and criticism of Lefebvre and Boulanger, which concerned itself chiefly with severe drawing. Of the artistic spirit of these masters he absorbed little if anything; but it was not until he went to Holland that he began to develop a decided personality of his own in his work, which soon commanded attention wherever shown. At the International Exhibition at Munich in 1888, at which American art made its second collective appearance in Germany, Melchers’ picture, “The Sermon,” was pronounced “the best piece of painting in the entire exhibition” by such artists as Bruno Piglheim and Hugo von Habermann, who complimented the American delegates on being enabled to call such an artist their own.Since then Melchers’ fame has grown both abroad and at home. He is represented in the Luxembourg Galleries at Paris, in the collections at Berlin, Munich, Dresden, Rome, and in many American galleries. His mural paintings “Peace” and “War” in the Congressional Library at Washington are pronounced among the finest examples of the art in this country.Melchers was one of the very first among the Americans to cultivate atmospheric qualities in his painting, and this has remained a special distinction in all his work. While this resulted at times in a somewhat dry quality of color, the latter is always exquisite in its harmony and of convincing truth to nature, and has defied all attempts at emulation at the hand of would-be imitators.Among the younger men whose claim to universal attention is fully recognized, we may count Frederick Carl Frieseke, whose painting “Garden in June” has just been added to the collection. While he must be considered as belonging to the impressionists school of painters, he is nonetheless another strong personality among American artists because of a strongly defined sense of design and balance which characterizes all his work. He delights in painting the dazzling quality of sunlight and is fond of representing figures in gardens, where the brilliant hues of flowers from a strong fascination for his sense of color. He does not care at all for the botanical nature of the flower and does not attempt its accurate representation; it is to him simply a color note which he introduces wherever it is required in his scheme, as indeed everything else is painted because of its value to the design and not for its own sake.Such is the case with the picture here reproduced, and which will no doubt find many admirers because of the qualities referred to.Mr. Frieseke was born at Owosso, Michigan, April 7th, 1874. According to “Who’s Who in Art,” he studied at the Chicago Art Institute, The Art Students’ League at New York and in Paris under Constant, Laurens and Whistler. Another writer asserts that he is principally self-taught. His painting, “The Open Window,” owned by the Chicago Art Institute, was in our recent exhibition of Modern Art.The painting “Open Sea” by Emil Carlsen, is notable for entirely different qualities. The quiet aspect of things appeal to this artist, and he imbues his work with a poetic feeling of singular charm, making the bare facts and force of nature subservient to his aim for beauty.While for years he has been familiar to the art loving public as a painter of still life, especially of game and fish, his more important work is in landscape and sea pieces, our picture being an excellent example of his artistic tendencies.Emil Carlson was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, October 19, 1853, and came to American in 1872. He studied architecture in his native city, but subsequently devoted himself to painting, in which he soon achieved unusual success. He has received many awards and is represented in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery in Washington and other important collections.Another fine and rather different example of American landscape art is the picture “Early Summer” by Charles H. Davis, who ranks among our great landscapists of the day.Charles Harold Davis was born at Amesbury, Mass., January 7, 1856. He began his studies in Boston as a pupil of Otto Grundmann; he also attended the school at the Boston Museum and later went to Paris, where he remained for about ten years, part of the time working at the Academie Julien under Lefebvre and Boulanger. Since 1890 he has taken up his residence at Mystic, Connecticut, where he has found endless material for his brush.Davis’ work is characterized by truth to nature, a beautiful tone, a certain dash and freedom coupled with an easy command of form.He has been especially happy in rendering the beauty of summer skies with large floating clouds and the apparent dome-like structure of the blue ether above, which is so well exemplified in the picture secured by Mrs. Bovey.To many, if not most people, winter is synonymous with discomfort and cheerlessness; and by habitually dwelling on the comforts and pleasures enjoyed during the preceding seasons, they succeeded in dulling their conception of its rare beauties. Because birds do not sing and flowers do not blossom, it does not follow that nature is wrapped in an unattractive sleep. If we have but eyes to see, we shall behold many a lovely picture stretched out before us, that may serve no other purpose to the untrained mind than to make it long for the promised joys of spring; but to him whose perceptions are keener, whose sympathies are broader, winter has charms that the other seasons cannot boast of, and the artist so equipped will draw inspiration from the aspect of even bleakness, that will bring cheer to the heart of every true lover of nature.Though winter pictures have been painted for hundreds of years past, it has remained for recent times to develop a veritable cult of winter landscapes among our artists. In the front rank of those who have achieved remarkable success in this specialty stands Edward Redfield, whose large painting River in Winter has recently been added to the Koon Memorial Collection.Edward Willis Redfield was born at Bridgeville, Delaware, December 19, 1868, where he also received his first instruction in drawing. Subsequently he attended the art school of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and then went to Paris, where Bouguereau and Tony Robert Fleury became his teachers. Returning to America he took up his abode in the Delaware valley, which has remained his permanent home. It was here, removed from all direct foreign influence, that he quickly developed a decided individual tendency in his art. He is a realist of purest type, and, discarding all preconceived notions of what a landscape painting ought to be, renders simple and—to the eyes of the untrained—unattractive bits of nature with a forcefulness and truth that has heretofore been absent from American art. Winter subjects soon began to have a strong fascination for him and his remarkable success in treating the various aspects of nature during this season has opened the eyes of many to the enjoyment of a somewhat discredited subject.Another among that forceful group of artists who mark the later development of a strong national tendency is Gardner Symons. Like Redfield he has discovered the charms of winter, but without allowing these to impair his love for nature in her other moods and seasons. Symons’ work is always distinguished by a poetic charm of color, a note of cheerfulness that has resulted not inappropriately in coupling the term “Optimist” with his name by a recent winter. It is the frank expression of a happy man, to whom life is full of hope and sunshine.George Gardner Symons was born in Chicago in 1861, and began his studies at the Art Institute, later going to Paris, Munich, and London, finally settling in New York, his present home. He is represented at the Metropolitan Museum, the Corcoran Gallery, the Chicago Art Institute, and other leading galleries. The picture acquired for the M. B. Koon Memorial Collection represents a narrow river winding through snowclad banks and is a typical example of his best winter landscapes. The canvas is signed in the lower right hand corner “Gardner Symons.”Referenced Works of Art
  1. Martin B. Koon
    On the thirty-first of January, 1883, Martin B. Koon, Notary Public, officially witnessed the signing of the application for incorporation of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts, On the tenth of January, 1911, Judge Koon presided at the banquet at which the establishment of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was consummated.
  2. "The Yellow Flower" by Robert Reid
  3. "The White Bridge" by John H. Twachtman
  4. “Isles of Shoals” by Childe Hassam
    A favorite subject with the artist of whose style this is a very characteristic piece of work.
  5. “Open Sea” Painting by Emil Carlson, recently acquired by Mrs. C.C. Bovey for the Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection.
  6. “Marriage” by Gari Melchers
  7. "Garden in June" by Carl Frieseke
  8. "Early Summer," by Charles H. Davis
  9. "River in Winter," by Gardner Symons
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Source: Robert Koehler, "The Martin B. Koon Memorial Collection," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 3, no. 3, 4, 5, 7 (March, April, May, July 1914): 33-34, 40-43, 56-58, 87-89.
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Added to Site: March 10, 2009