In celebration of the Minnesota Centennial, now being commemorated throughout the state, the Art Institute will open an exhibition of paintings entitled Historic Minnesota
on March 15. Representing many aspects of Minnesota life, as well as the state of painting during the early years of its development in Minnesota, the exhibition will cover a period of approximately sixty years. That much of the work leaves something to be desired from the point of view of art will be apparent to everyone, yet there is no one who will not regard these pictures with interest, indulgence, and the nostalgia which accompanies many a backward glance.Of particular interest to members of the Institute and to Minneapolitans in general will be a group of paintings from the museum’s permanent collection which reflect various stages in the growth of Minneapolis and which are, in several instances, closely associated with the Society of Fine Arts.The earliest of these is probably the view of Fort Snelling painted by Seth Eastman during the period from 1841 to 1848 when he served as Commandant of the Fort. It is a topographical scene which, despite the tightness of its execution, conveys with fidelity and a certain naïve charm the appearance of the Fort in the years just preceding the organization of the Territorial Government in Minnesota. Between the Indian teepees which occupy the foreground and fringe the shore of Pike’s Island rise the Sibley and Faribault Houses—famous landmarks which appear in other paintings in the exhibition. The Fort, ringed by barracks and small residences, appears on the bluffs of the Mississippi beyond. An air of liveliness is imparted to the scene by a group of Indians participating in a tribal dance.The establishment of the military post by Colonel Leavenworth in 1819 marked the advent of the white man in this region. In 1820 Colonel Josiah Snelling came out to take command of the post and make it permanent. It was about the year 1824-25 that the name of the Fort was changed from St. Anthony to Snelling, in honor of the Colonel who contributed so much to its importance and value in the early days of Minnesota history. The reservation for the Fort was ceded by the Sioux Indians in a treaty drawn up by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike in 1805. It extended from the mouth of the Minnesota to a point up the Mississippi which included St. Anthony Falls and nine miles inland on each side of the river.The Falls of St. Anthony, as they looked in 1848, are depicted in a painting done by Henry Lewis about 1855 from a sketch made during his trip up the river in 1848. It is a charming and romantic view which corroborates Colonel Snelling’s impression of St. Anthony Falls: “in wild and picturesque beauty it is perhaps unequaled.” In the Lewis painting the Falls are seen from the west bank of the river with Spirit and Hennepin Islands in the middle distance. The “curling water” noted by Father Hennepin on his discovery of the spot boils around the rocky, wooded islands under a clear blue sky banked with fluffy clouds moving toward the west. On a ledge in the left foreground an Indian brave surveys the peaceful scene. This idyllic spot was discovered by Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, in the expedition of La Salle, in the late summer of 1680. The first European to look upon the Falls, he named them St. Anthony in honor of the patron saint chosen for the La Salle expedition.By the time this picture was painted, the population of the region had increased to about 300, and a town of the name St. Anthony City was laid out on the east bank of the river adjacent to the Falls. A year later the Territorial Government was organized; a library association was incorporated, 200 volumes were placed on its shelves, and a course of lectures for the diversion and instruction of the citizens of St. Anthony was instituted. The library and lectures were both a godsend during the long cold winters. An account of such a winter from a woman’s point of view states that one of the big events of the winter of 1851 was the arrival of David Copperfield.
Word ran through the town like fire that “Dickens’ new novel has come” and by the time spring arrived the book was almost in rags. The same woman describes the condemnation of Martin Chuzzlewit
by a minister who was giving some of the lectures arranged by the library association. For some time no comment was made on this action, but at last one indignant citizen asked the minister the reason for such a ban. The minister replied that he didn’t know; he hadn’t read the book but thought the name a most absurd one.Fortunately, intellectual fare was easier to come by than table fare. After winter closed down the inhabitants of St. Anthony lived on salt pork, salt codfish, white beans, flour, corn meal, coffee, and tea. Dried beef was a luxury and milk to be had only occasionally. When spring did come the whole community blossomed. In May of 1857 the following comment appeared in the St. Anthony Republican
: “Never before did the streets of our dual city exhibit such activity and life of business—numberless teams and carriages—throngs of strangers—spring goods everywhere arriving and unpacking—ladies all out to have the first pick—busy clang and clatter of machinery—new buildings going up on every hand—everybody going at quick step. Such is life just now in St. Anthony and Minneapolis.” Although Minneapolis was not incorporated as a city until 1867, twelve years after the incorporation of St. Anthony, it was already a formidable rival to its sister across the river. The merging of both cities into the city of Minneapolis occurred in 1872.The river was the heart of all activities during these decades, and two views of it painted by Alexander Fournier in 1888 reflect the business it gave rise to. The painting of Farnham’s Mill
represents one of the early saw mills established at the Falls. It lay on the west side of Hennepin Island at the east end of the Falls. In the background rises the Exposition Building, opened with great fanfare in 1886. The Mill Pond
depicts the river from the University side. In the middle distance can be seen the stone arch bridge built in 1888 by the Manitoba Railroad Company, and beyond it the steel arch bridge erected inn 1886 to replace the old suspension bridge. The importance of the flour industry is indicated by the mills along the river and by the spur railroad and the freight cars in the foreground. Although these paintings are of greater documentary than artistic interest, they reveal a nice sense of color and a feeling for the character of the country.Two painters directly associated with the Society of Fine Arts, incorporated in 1883, are represented by the pictures entitled After the Reception
and Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue.
The former is the work of Douglas Volk, from 1886 to 1893 Director of the Art School which was the Society’s first enterprise. It represents a bride who, fatigued by the wedding festivities, has sunk down on a settee to rest. To the modern eye it will appear quaint and old-fashioned, but it represents an epoch which had great distinction in many ways, and recalls the brave young days of a city that has developed as its founders hoped it might.Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue
was painted about 1910 by Robert Koehler, Director of the Art School from 1893 until 1914. Here, one is at once impressed by the mood of the picture. It is misty and dim and, in the light of present-day civilization, wholly peaceful. Through the bare branches of the trees on the left may be discerned the Public Library, for so many years the home of The Society of Fine Arts and of the Art School. In the wet streets before it the gas lamps flicker softly, lending an air of mystery to the night. Koehler witnessed both the opening of the Art Institute and of the present fine building for the Art School which was presented to the Society of Fine Arts by Ethel Morrison Van Derlip and Dr. Angus Morrison in 1916. He thus had the happiness of participating in the fulfillment of the great dream of the original founders of the Society.Several of those who had an outstanding part in its development are represented in the portrait section of Historic Minnesota: Dr. William W. Folwell, first President of the Society; William Hood Dunwoody, whose munificent bequest of a million dollar endowment fund for the purchase of works of art has brought so many great works to the Institute; Clinton Morrison, who gave the land on which the Art Institute and Art School now stand; John S. Bradstreet, whose influence on the taste of Minneapolis was profound, and others to whom the Twin Cities and the State are indebted for outstanding services to the community.The exhibition of Historic Minnesota will be on view from March 15 through May 15. It was made possible by generous loans from institutions and private collectors, including the Minnesota State Historical Society, the St. Louis County Historical Society, the Smithsonian Institute, General Mills, Pillsbury Mills Inc., the Minneapolis Club, the Minneapolis Public Library, Sibley House, Richard P. Gale, Dr. Harry B. Zimmerman, and Earnest Reiff.Referenced Works of Art
- St. Anthony Falls as it Appeared in 1848. Detail. Henry Lewis, American, XIX century. Gift from Edward C. Gale, 1928
- View of Fort Snelling by Seth Eastman, Commandant at the Fort from 1841 to 1848. Julia B. Bigelow Fund for American Paintings
- Farnham’s Mill at St. Anthony Falls with the Exposition Building in the Background. Alexander Fournier, American, 1865-1948
- The Mill Pond at Minneapolis showing the stone arch railroad bridge painted in 1888 by Alexander Fournier. Julia B. Bigelow Fund
- After the Reception. Painted in 1887 in Minneapolis by Douglas Volk, 1856-1935, first Director of The Minneapolis School of Art
- Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue. Painted about 1910 by Robert Koehler, 1850-1917. Gift from a group of Koehler’s friends