PPHM to examine influential Texas Impressionist in new exhibition

Posted by Chip Chandler - Digital Content Producer on
"A Mexican Wash Day" by Jose Arpa, circa 1900

by Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

When the Impressionist movement was at full bloom in Paris, Texas was still mostly the dusty land of legend.

When French painters began revolutionizing the art world, our area in particular was still filled with danger: The second Battle of Adobe Walls took place within months of the first Impressionism exhibition in Paris in 1874.

Yet within two decades, a Spanish artist arrived in Texas and helped the worldwide art movement begin flowering in the Lone Star State.

Now, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum will examine that artist’s legacy in “Jose Arpa: A Spanish Painter in Texas,” opening Saturday.

The exhibition will hang through Sept. 5 at the museum, 2503 Fourth Ave. in Canyon.

Impressionism is marked by “pure, prismatic colors” that were generally applied with short brush strokes, according to art expert William H. Gerdts, who wrote the introduction for PPHM’s previous “Texas Impressionists” exhibition in 2012. Gerdts’ 1984 book “American Impressionism” is the standard text on the topic in the art world.

That exhibition featured three of Arpa’s works alongside other influential artists such as Julian Onderdonk and Lucien Abrams, but Michael Grauer, PPHM’s associate director of curatorial affairs, art & Western heritage, argues that Arpa’s influence outstripped almost all.

“Onderdonk had students, but mainly they were imitators,” Grauer said. “Arpa founded a plein-air school in Bandera in 1926. His influence was greater than probably any artist besides Frank Reaugh.”

Arpa and the Spanish Impressionists he learned from painted in a less abstract manner than their French brethren, Grauer said: “The forms were clearer. It was a less pure form of the flickering brushstroke,” he said.

The artists – who were deeply connected to their Spanish heritage – also used black more predominantly than other European Impressionists, Grauer said. And Arpa specifically was flexible enough to ply his craft in a myriad of ways – not just in traditionally artistic methods, either.

“He was a decorative painter as well – did ceilings, designed plasters and everything,” Grauer said.

That might have led to some diminishment of his reputation.

“All of the research I’ve read, which is mostly in Spanish, refer to him taking a workmanlike approach,” Grauer said. “A lot of people see that … as demeaning to his work, but that’s not the way I see it.

“He was just very much in love with his craft and very set and determined in how he wanted to carry it out,” Grauer continued. “But he was open to new ideas as well.”

“Jose Arpa: A Spanish Painter in Texas” opens Saturday and hangs through Sept. 5 at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, 2503 Fourth Ave. in Canyon. For information, call 806-651-2244 or visit www.panhandleplains.org.


* Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and atwww.facebook.com/chipchandlerwriter on Facebook.