Charles “Frank” Reaugh is a household name among art curators, but it’s a name that most Texans aren’t familiar with just yet. The Witte Museum will invite the public to learn more about the artist’s life and legacy with a special documentary screening of “Frank Reaugh: Pastel Poet of the Texas Plains,”on Thursday, Feb. 11.
Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will be served at 6:30 p.m., and the screening begins at 7 p.m. Suggested donation is $5 for members and students, $10 for adults. Call 210.357.1910. to make reservations.
Attendees will have an opportunity to speak with the documentary filmmaker, Marla Fields, about Reaugh’s role as an important Texan artist. Reaugh (pronounced “Ray”), drew and painted prolifically, and impacted generations of artists across the country. Nearly 3,500 of his works are still in existence today.
The Witte collection has more than 50 works by Reaugh, and several of his sketches and paintings can be found on the second floor of the Witte. Visitors can also view his sketches in the B. Naylor Morton Research and Collection Center.
Witte Chief Curator Amy Fulkerson said that the documentary would complement the Witte’s existing Reaugh collection, which will be featured during the event.
“Fields may know more about Reaugh than anyone else right now,” Fulkerson said.
Fields discovered Reaugh while reading a news article that credited him with setting the standard for modern-day pastels, and educating a generation of Texas and American artists. Despite his success as an artist, he died a ward of the city, and his work was largely forgotten after World WWII. That didn’t sit well with Fields.
“Reaugh was instrumental in bringing art and culture to Dallas…He was a hugely influential American artist” Fields said. “Curators know about him but the general public doesn’t. He should be (credited as) equally important as Remington and Russell.”
Reaugh preferred charcoal and pastels to the traditional oils used by many of his contemporaries, and his favorite subjects– landscapes, shifts in light and water– required him to work outside. Pastels also gave him the freedom to make quick studies, highlight subtle details and create art in less-than perfect working conditions.
The bulk of Reaugh’s work captures a very specific time in American history when cattle still roamed freely, and settlers were searching for new homes. It was a time before barbed wire fences. His pastels help communicate the natural harmony he found throughout the country, especially in Texas.
At the peak of his career, Reaugh’s work could be found in the biggest American exhibitions, and was featured alongside artists like John Singer-Sargent. Reaugh regularly traveled with his work to museums and galleries in Texas and across the Midwest, and would teach young artists in the area.
The industrialization of Texas cities in the 20th century gave way to a growing demand for nostalgic art. The most successful art usually featured stock characters like cowboys and indians and rattlesnakes that are still prevalent in Texas culture today.
“I think there’s a bias towards the promotion of (those kind of) paintings,” said Fulkerson. “Sometimes the definition of art needs to be broadened.”
Fields worked with a small but dedicated art community, over the course of five years, and helped research and document Reaugh’s work and legacy. She worked with art and culture historians, research experts and traveled across the state before the film was completed.“It was truly a community effort,” she said.
Reaugh’s work is experiencing a resurgence of interest thanks to the Fields’ documentary, which has already been privately screened in several cities throughout Texas. Public art exhibits, like “Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West,” recently held at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, are making his work accessible to the public.
At a 2015 Heritage Art auction held in Dallas, one of Reaugh’s works, “Sheepherders Camp,1893” broke auction records when it sold for nearly $500,000.
“That’s a huge improvement,” Fields said. “I think a lot (more) of his paintings are going to come out of the woodworks. I still don’t think theres enough attention or awareness to his legacy just yet, but who knows what the future will bring.”
The Witte Museum will screen “Frank Reaugh: Pastel Poet of the Texas Plains” on Feb. 11, 6:30-8:30 p.m. The speaker for this program is sponsored by Vogt Auction and J.R. Mooney Galleries. The Louis A. and Frances B. Wagner series is sponsored by the Louis A. and Frances B. Wagner Lecture Series Fund.
*Top Image: Texas Longhorns, by Charles F. Reaugh. Gift of Susan and Claude Albritton. Courtesy Image.