Though she is best known to readers of this magazine for the treasure trove of colonial American furniture and other decorative arts that she assembled in her Houston estate—today known as the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—Ima Hogg was a collector with a remarkable breadth of interests. In this excerpt from his new biography, Ima Hogg: The Extraordinary Cultural Patron Behind the Unusual Name, David B. Warren describes how Hogg discovered a passion for the work of Picasso, Matisse, Klee, and other greats of modern art.
In June of 1929, Ima, along with her former piano student Eloise Helbig Chalmers, left Houston for New York on the first leg of a trip to Russia. The trip, as outlined in a new diary, had been arranged under the auspices of an organization called New Educational Fellowship in conjunction with a program named Open Road, which provided a way for Westerners to go to Communist Russia.1 They set sail on the Scandinavian America Line’s Hellig Olav, destined for Oslo…. En route [from Norway] to Russia via Finland, the travelers were not met by a Russian representative of Open Road, and they experienced considerable delay and red tape about visas, which supposedly had been arranged by the New York office. Ima commented in her diary, “I conclude the New York office is very lax and unbusinesslike.” At any rate, they set off on a night train for Leningrad. She also noted that, although they were roused from their beds for breakfast at 6:00 a.m., breakfast was not served until 10:30 a.m. That confusion may have distracted Ima during the time their train was arriving at the Russian border….In her usual self-deprecating manner, she wrote, “I distinguished myself at the outset by leaving my purse on the train. When I discovered it the car had been switched back to Finland.” Somehow the purse was retrieved, but when, in gratitude, she offered a tip to the Russian who had returned it, he refused, and another official scolded her for being so foolish as to lose it. In Leningrad, the travelers stayed in the venerable Europa Hotel on the Neva. Ever the keen observer, Ima recorded her impressions of sadness on the faces of the people she saw in the streets, and that the city seemed very poor, though not squalid. The sight of poor workers “teeming in gracious mansions” made it seem to her “as if the city had been deserted and then reoccupied by another race of people.”…On a train trip out to Peterhof Palace, she was impressed by contrasts of Communist Russia—the train filled with poor peasants in contradistinction to the incredible luxe of the palace, and the palace of Tsarskoye Selo, whose elegant chambers had been converted into a night clinic for sick working peasants. She later visited the Winter Palace, where she was impressed by the great paintings, and also by the horse equipage studded with diamonds and emeralds.
After a week in Leningrad, Ima and Eloise traveled to Moscow, where they were put up at the Hotel Select, described as “centrally located and very poor” in Ima’s diary. Her diary entries suddenly ceased in mid-July, so what she saw and where she went in Moscow was not fully recorded. However, years later, when telling me about the trip, Ima said, “In Russia I saw modern art for the first time, and it knocked my socks off.” She was undoubtedly referring to extraordinary works by Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, confiscated by Vladimir Lenin in 1918 from the private collections of Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, and first exhibited together in Shchukin’s Moscow mansion and then, in 1928, installed in the former Moscow mansion of Ivan Morozov and called the State Museum of New Western Art. Although Ima had seen the paintings of Claude Monet at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in New York in February 1902, those Impressionist paintings apparently did not qualify in her mind as “modern.”
By the end of August, Ima was in Munich, where she visited the bookstore and gallery of Hans Goltz. Goltz’s invoice of August 31, 1929, made out to James Chillman, director at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, indicates that Goltz was sending Chillman, as requested by Miss Ima Hogg, six drawings (one each by Jean-BaptisteCamille Corot, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, JeanFrançois Millet, Camille Pissarro, and two by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) and eight prints (one each by Paul Cézanne, Aristide Maillol, Edouard Manet, Millet, and four by Picasso).2 Ima’s exposure to “modern art” in Russia clearly had excited her, and she was acting upon her excitement. Again, there is a parallel with her earlier “discovery” of Americana and the more recent one of Southwest Indian arts.
She traveled on to Paris, where she continued to visit galleries and look at modern art, including Paul Rosenberg’s gallery in the rue La Boétie. By that time, Rosenberg, one of Paris’s preeminent art dealers, had secured an exclusive relationship with both Pablo Picasso and Marie Laurencin, artists whose work Ima had seen in conjunction with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes Paris productions in May of 1926. She purchased two large Picasso gouaches: Three Women at the Fountain [Fig. 3] and Head of a Woman (c. 1907), rendered in Picasso’s Africanizing style. The figures of Three Women are in the same classicizing style as the Picasso drawings of the ballet performers illustrated in the Ballets Russes program. Ima also visited the nearby gallery of Paul Guillaume, who dealt in the work of cutting-edge artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Georges Braque, Giorgio de Chirico, and Henri Matisse. On September 21, 1929, she purchased her first modern painting, described in Guillaume’s bill as “1 picture by henri matisse ‘Woman in Green’.” This was Matisse’s portrait titled Meditation (Portrait of Lorette)[Fig. 1], one of a series of paintings of his Italian model made between 1916 and 1917. Guillaume’s bill was made out to “Miss I. Hogg,” care of the Hogg Brothers firm in Houston. Payment for both the Matisse and the Picassos, via First City National Bank of Houston’s Paris correspondent, was made by the Hogg Brothers office, drawing on Ima’s firm account.3 Though apparently dependent on the firm to process her expenses, Ima by this time at least had her own firm account and did not need to ask for permission to incur expenses.
So in the space of six weeks, Ima had begun to be a collector of modern art—one painting and fourteen works on paper. All the works she had purchased were by French artists, except the Spaniard Picasso, though by that time he was identified with Paris. The likely reason that her purchases were French is that her introduction to the “modern art” she saw in Russia was works by Paris artists.
At the end of September, Ima sailed for New York on the Cunard liner Berengaria, arriving in early October and traveling on to Houston. Ima, back in Houston, plunged into raising funds for her newly organized Child Guidance Center, and began work to breathe life into the moribund Houston Symphony Association. Yet she had not lost interest in the idea of collecting modern art. In January of 1930, she wrote to [her brother] Will, who by that time was living in Paris, that she hoped he would become involved too: “Wish you would get interested in Matisse, Derain, and Picasso—great men.” Though Will often responded positively to his sister’s suggestions, in this case he did not share her enthusiasm, and wrote to her that, although he had met Kees van Dongen at his studio in Paris, and had seen works by “the other three you name…I don’t recall that I got any joy out of them.”4
In the late spring of 1930, Ima returned to Europe, first to Paris, where she was met by Will…. His diary notes their visits to art galleries and museum exhibitions. On June 5, they went to Paul Rosenberg’s gallery to see a collection of works by Corot, and returned there five days later, as Will noted in his diary: “See Picassos with Missima at Rosenberg Gallery.” On June 14, they visited the Tuileries, where the Salon des Indépendants was having its annual exhibition. Among the works displayed were paintings by such diverse modern Paris masters as Matisse, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, and Robert Delaunay, as well as a portrait of Léopold Zborowski by Amedeo Modigliani. On the same day, Ima bought a penand-ink drawing by Modigliani, Le Guignol, at the Galerie Percier.5 She likely had first seen Modigliani’s work the previous year, as he was represented by Paul Guillaume.
Then Ima, accompanied by Will, went on to Germany. In Leipzig, during the third week of June, they attended a two-day Bach festival, where Ima was particularly impressed by the performance of his cantatas.6 Will’s June 30 diary entry notes, “in Berlin see some new art at Royal Gallery.” This experience may have changed Ima’s direction of collecting, as within days she began to pursue modernist German works by artists associated with the Die Brücke and Blaue Reiter movements. With her particular fondness for German culture and music, this new direction is not surprising. On July 2, in Berlin, at the Galerie Möller, she bought four watercolors, two by Lyonel Feininger, and two by Paul Klee [Fig. 4], as well as a Klee lithograph. [Two weeks later], she returned to Möller, where she bought a watercolor by Max Pechstein [Fig. 5]. She traveled on to Munich, where she visited the Graphisches Kabinett and made three more purchases: two watercolors—one each by Erich Heckel [Fig. 6] and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner—and a lithograph by Oskar Kokoschka….7[In September] Ima returned to America and to life in Houston. Her collecting of German modernist works on paper had one more flash of activity in January of 1931, when, in New York, she purchased seven German Expressionist prints from the visiting dealer L. W. Gutbier, who was based in Dresden, the home of the Die Brücke and Blaue Reiter movements. These works included two by Wassily Kandinsky, two by Franz Marc, and single works by Käthe Kollwitz, Emil Nolde, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.8 In later life, Ima mentioned to me that she was intrigued by those artists whose work related to music. She likely was referring to Kandinsky and Marc, who interacted closely with a fellow Blaue Reiter member, the composer Arnold Schoenberg. Though German Expressionist art is often marked by strident colors and contorted forms, the works selected by Ima were, for the most part, characterized by lyrical colorism and gentleness of subject matter. She continued to add a few other works on paper to her collection, including several by Rockwell Kent related to his late 1920s illustrations for Moby-Dick. During the late 1930s, she spent several summers in Mexico, and during that time she likely acquired works by Mexican artists—six by Roberto Montenegro, three by José Clemente Orozco, and a single print by Diego Rivera.…In 1939 she gave [her collection of modernist works on paper]to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. At the time, she retained ownership of Matisse’s Meditation (Portrait of Lorette), which she gave to the museum in 1948, and the two Picasso pastels…. [O]ne, Head of a Woman, was sold in the early 1970s to raise funds for a colonial American portrait by Robert Feke; Three Women at the Fountain was given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1969.
Although Ima was not the earliest of collectors of modern art in early-twentieth-century America, she undoubtedly was the first in Texas. The real pioneers were the Cone sisters of Baltimore, Etta and Claribel, and the Stein siblings, Gertrude and Leo, also of Baltimore and later Paris, who greatly influenced the collecting of the Cones….
In New York, there were two important early collectors, John Quinn and Lillie Bliss. Both were major lenders to the landmark Armory Show exhibition of 1913. Quinn died in the mid-1920s, and his collection was dispersed. Bliss would go on to form a friendship with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who began to collect modern art, primarily works on paper, in 1925. Together they, with Mary Quinn Sullivan, founded New York’s Museum of Modern Art, which opened to the public in November of 1929. The parallels here are that Lillie Bliss was also a single woman of independent means, and that Abby Rockefeller was drawn to works on paper. However, there is no indication that Ima knew either of these ladies. As the Steins, Cones, and later the Museum of Modern Art viewed modernism as basically art made in France, Ima’s 1930 foray into German Expressionism represents a certain amount of independence on her part. With the exception of the Matisse painting Meditation (Portrait of Lorette), her small collection of eighty-four examples was entirely works on paper….She once told me that she loved collecting drawings, because she could keep them in a drawer, and when she was alone, she could get one out to study, savor, and enjoy. “Holding a drawing in my hand always made me feel closer to the artist,” she told me. She made an exception for the two Picassos and the Matisse, which were proudly hung in the drawing room at Bayou Bend ….
When I first met Ima in the mid-1960s and learned of this collection, I commented on how remarkable it was that she had assembled those works. With her typical modesty and self-deprecation, her response was, “Oh, they are so old hat now, even people who don’t like modern art like them.” Although, in a national context, her collecting in this area was small and not trendsetting, in the context of Texas, the collection becomes considerably more significant, both in timing and in content.
1 Ima Hogg, 1929 diary, University of Texas, Ima Hogg papers, Box 4Zg86. 2 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Ima Hogg Collection files (henceforth MFAH, IH collection files). 3 Ibid. 4 Ima Hogg to William Clifford Hogg, January 30, 1930, University of Texas, William Clifford Hogg papers, Box 2j329; William Clifford Hogg to Ima Hogg, July 22, 1930, ibid., Box 3B119. 5 Diary, ibid, Box 2J399; invoice, MFAH, IH collection files. 6 Ima Hogg Collection Symphony Programs 1900–1978, University of Houston Library. 7 Invoice, MFAH, IH collection files. 8 Invoice, ibid.
DAVID B. WARREN is the Founding Director Emeritus, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Excerpted from Ima Hogg: The Extraordinary Cultural Patron behind the Unusual Name, by David B. Warren, published December 2016 by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and distributed by Yale University Press. Copyright © 2016 David B. Warren. Reprinted by permission of the author.