And the winner is . . . Fletcher Martin's The Undefeated. By a margin of 2-to-1, the 1948 painting of a boxing match won the popular vote by members of the Collectors Circle at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. The support group holds a dinner each year to raise funds, which are then used to buy new art for the institution.
Chief curator Jennifer Hardin selects three works of art that are on the market and would fill a gap in the collection, so the choice isn't random, but it often reflects the overall preferences of Collectors Circle members.
Martin's work was chosen over another painting, The Shepherd and His Flock by 19th century French Barbizon artist Charles Jacque, and a Corinthian ceramic wine jug from the late 7th to early 6th century B.C.
Martin (1904-1979) was a mostly self-taught American painter whose work shares stylistic similarities with regionalist Thomas Hart Benton's sculptural treatment of figures. Museum director of communications David Connelly describes the painting's subject: "The Undefeated interprets an iconic moment from Joe Louis' last championship fight in 1948. Unusually, Martin does not represent Louis, the winner, but instead his opponent 'Jersey' Joe Walcott. The painting references the fight's climax during the 11th round — Louis pummeled Walcott, resulting in a knockout. Referee Frank Fullam made the count and declared Louis the winner. A dizzy but determined Walcott stood up again, too late, and Fullam caught him before he collapsed."
Martin was hired by Life as a documentary artist during World War II. A portfolio of his work in France and London was published by the magazine, and one was a cover. His work is also in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. The purchase price for this work is not disclosed by the museum.
It's on view now along with (temporarily) the also-rans at the museum, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-2667 or fine-arts-org.