Visual Arts

"Texas Before the Boom": Texas Art Before the Turn of the Century and Before Clichés Set In

The exhibition "Texas Before the Boom, 1850-1900: Selections from the Bobbie and John L. Nau Collection," currently on view at the Pearl Fincher Art Museum in Spring, consists of 40 or so paintings and drawings made in Texas or by Texans, mostly before 1900. Since most people, when they think of Texas art -- especially the old stuff -- probably think first of bluebonnets, cowboys and longhorn cattle, this show might just as aptly be titled Texas Art Before the Clichés. There's not a single blue-bonnet or cowboy, and only one longhorn, in the show.

To be fair, there's nothing inherently wrong with any of those subjects, all of which came along big time for Texas artists after the turn of the 20th century. Even bluebonnet paintings can be good -- it's all in the execution, and those illusive qualities that transform a painting into art. But the works in this show are especially intriguing in part because the subjects are so different from those conventional ideas of what makes a work "Texas art."

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Randy Tibbits is an independent art writer and curator, specializing in the art history of Houston. He is a member of the Board of Directors of CASETA: Center for the Advancement and Study of Early Texas Art and the coordinator of HETAG: Houston Earlier Texas Art Group. He writes art exhibition reviews for Houston Press from time to time.