Van Gogh Arrives in Houston, 1951

Back in 2017 I wrote about finding at an estate sale a scrapbook that had belonged to Cal Dean Hill ’52.  It chronicled much of his life, from boyhood through his years at Rice. An enormously important part of that life was his girlfriend, later wife, Ginny Smith ’52, photographed here on campus sometime in the early 1950s:

Then a couple years ago Ginny and Cal’s family came to the Woodson and generously donated another family album, this one belonging to Ginny, one packed full of evidence of their happy and busy social life. There are images of a wide range of Rice activities and also of events at Houston’s cultural institutions. One of the most important of these was the 1951 Van Gogh exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum, which had only opened in 1948. The exhibit was held in the museum’s original building, a small A-frame designed by McKie & Kamrath. I can’t help but wonder how they pulled this off. In any event, Ginny Smith took pictures during her visit:

Anyone who’s been reading here for a while knows that one of the things I love best is when different collections overlap. In this case, the second important collection holds the records of  CAMH. My esteemed colleague Rebecca helped me find what I had hoped would be there–the catalog of the exhibition. Here’s the foreword:

Also interesting are these lists, first the lenders (Jock Whitney!) :

And the local participants, a Who’s Who of Houston society:

All of which is to say that seventy years later things have changed pretty dramatically:

Bonus: The February freeze hit the Italian cypresses hard. One’s gone and more are going. I’d feel bad about this but apparently we’ve decided we’re just going to keep planting them and watching them slowly die so I’m not spending any more emotional energy on it.

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6 Responses to Van Gogh Arrives in Houston, 1951

  1. Don H. Johnson says:

    I have worked on a LOT of paintings by van Gogh, but on only one of the ones depicted: La Berçeuse in the upper right corner from the Art Institute of Chicago. The others are from private collections which are much harder to get access too. I am jealous! That 1951 exhibition was very special; it occurred many years before the van Gogh Museum (it has the largest colllection) opened its doors.

  2. Laura Cole says:

    I can’t find it now, but there was an article I read recently about Vincent Van Gogh’s sister in law, Jo. I believe it was published in The Atlantic. She is the main reason we know Van Gogh today.
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johanna_van_Gogh-Bonger

    • Grungy says:

      The Woman Who Made van Gogh
      Neglected by art history for decades, Jo van Gogh-Bonger, the painter’s sister-in-law, is finally being recognized as the force who opened the world’s eyes to his genius.

      By Russell Shorto
      Published April 14, 2021
      Updated April 23, 2021

  3. Don H. Johnson says:

    There are pictures of Theo and Jo’s apartment in Paris. The walls are covered in now familiar paintings. Vincent sent most of his paintings from his later periods to his brother for sale. After Theo died (six months after Vincent), Jo kept accurate records of the paintings, selling a few for income. That collection forms the heart of the van Gogh Museum’s collection.

  4. Carolyn Brewer says:

    Wonderful article. I remember the original CAM well, from my student days at Rice.

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