Book Review: Frederic Remington: The Hogg Brothers Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (by Emily Ballew Neff with Wynne H. Phelan) : WW
Frederic Remington: The Hogg Brothers Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by Emily Ballew Neff with Wynne H. Phelan, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 2000, $49.95.
In New York City in the 1920s, Will Hogg built up the largest collection of Frederic Remington works outside of the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and then brought those Remingtons out West…more specifically, to Houston, Texas. You might say that when it came to Remington, Houston went Hogg wild! “Hogg’s pursuit of the work of this quintessential artist of the American West was a major factor in the surge of national appreciation for Remington,” writes Emily Ballew Neff in her introductory essay about the prominent businessman and philanthropist. As for Remington (1861-1909), he needs no introduction, but his many fans won’t complain about another book showcasing his creations. Featured are 22 Remingtons from the Hoggs Brothers Collection, and the book concludes with an illustrated checklist of all 41 works in the collection–which was donated to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts by Ima Hogg (1882-1975) in 1943 after the deaths of her brothers Will (1875-1930) and Mike (1885-1941). There was also another brother, Thomas (1887-1949). Their father, Jim Hogg, served two terms as governor of Texas in the 1890s.
The Hoggs’ story, which takes up the first 35 pages of the 146-page book, will intrigue many readers, even some who have never been to Houston. But it is the catalog, with its color plates, black-and-white illustrations and illuminating text, that will captivate Western history and art buffs. The tension and anxiety of a historic event–Big Foot Wallace and other prisoners from Texas are in line to decide which ones will be shot by Mexican soldiers–makes Remington’s 1896 oil-on-canvas The Mier Expedition: The Drawing of the Black Bean especially appealing. None of the works seen here, though, can top the 1903 painting Fight for the Water Hole, in which five gunmen are positioned in a sandy hole with a shallow pool of blue water at its center during a battle with mounted Indians. That work, which many Remington authorities consider the masterpiece of his career, is seen on the front and back covers of the book.
A big bonus is Wynne H. Phelan’s “Observations on Remington’s Technique,” an essay that takes a really close look at six of the Remington paintings that underwent conservation treatment. The technical investigation of each painting using infrared reflectography and x-radiography provided insights into the methods, materials and experiments that the artist made. For instance, in The Mier Expedition: The Drawing of the Black Bean, infrared reflectography discloses three major changes Remington made between the preliminary sketch and the finished composition. Phelan says that the famous artist “evolved from being dependent solely on his able draftsmanship to having the confidence to compose directly on the canvas with his brush.” Remington’s romantic vision of the Old West has fascinated many people, from film director John Ford and actor John Wayne to Presidents Lyndon Johnson and George Bush, and it is our good fortune that one of those people happened to be Will Hogg.
Johnny D. Boggs