AMoA to put focus on area pioneer's extensive Impressionist collection
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
It took a couple of decades, but an area pioneer's world-class collection of Impressionist art is hanging on the walls of a museum in his beloved Texas Panhandle.
The Collection of Montgomery H.W. Ritchie — featuring works by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Matisse, Cézanne, and others — will be on view beginning Sunday at the Amarillo Museum of Art, 2200 S. Van Buren St. It will remain on view through March 26.
Ritchie was born in England in 1910 and came to the Texas Panhandle in 1931 to work on the J.A. Ranch, co-founded by Charles Goodnight and John George Adair, Ritchie's step-grandfather, in 1879. Ritchie took over management of the ranch in 1935 and remained there until his death in 1999.
Ritchie began collecting art in the 1940s and assembled a massive collection of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings and sculpture.
But for decades, that collection was seen only by visitors to Ritchie's ranch home because of his desire to keep his hobby private, according to Richard Brettell, the founding director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Art History at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Brettell met Ritchie in 1988 after the rancher sent Brettell's predecessor at the Dallas Museum of Art a typewritten list of his collection's contents. Brettell was skeptical at first.
"How, I thought, could a rancher from the Panhandle actually have such important works of art on a ranch?" he wrote in an essay accompanying a catalog of the AMoA exhibition.
But one work in particular — a charcoal drawing by Paul Gauguin, a missing piece for an exhibition he was working on — caught his eye, so he got in touch with Ritchie, who flew to Dallas in his private plane to pick up Brettell and show him the collection in person.
"What was clear to me as we walked through the house is that his was the collection of a true art lover," Brettell, who was not available for an interview, wrote. "When he was on the ranch — a good deal of each year — he stared at each work and brought his eye and mind to that act of looking as the works of art changed because of shifting light, his mood, or a glass of good wine. They literally transported him from the ranch to somewhere else, and each of those vicarious experiences enriched his day-to-day life. In a way, they were the constants in his life."
Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement that emphasized movement, light and ordinary subject matters.
"The Impressionists made such an impact because (their work) was completely different," said Alex Gregory, AMoA curator of art. "They were breaking down painting and the idea of what art could be."
Before his death in 1999, Ritchie gave the bulk of his collection to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis, Tenn., a museum built in the home of his friend and fellow British-born expatriate Hugo Dixon. The AMoA exhibition will be the first time the collection has hung in the Panhandle region in years, Gregory said.
"This is a unique opportunity and a world-class collection," Gregory said. "You would have to go to Denver or Dallas to see this caliber of French Impressionism, and to have it in this building and to have that local connection is cool to think about."
The exhibition will include a three-part free lecture series, as well:
- Brettell will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on the collection as a whole
- Gregory will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 on the ties between French Impressionism and Japanese woodblock prints such as those in the museum's Price Collection
- and Alex Hunt, English and Western studies professor from West Texas A&M University, will speak at 7 p.m. Feb. 23 on the history of the JA Ranch.
Admission is free. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Call 806-371-5050.
The following is a sample of the work on view in the exhibition: