TAMPA — Beauty and big names are coming to the Tampa Museum of Art in February with "To See As Artists See," an exhibition of more than 100 American paintings from the Phillips Collection, a distinguished museum in Washington D.C.
The works, spanning the late 19th century and well into the 20th, will be the largest survey ever exhibited in the Tampa Bay area of an era when American artists found their own vision and voice.
The 75 artists are associated with well-known movements such as impressionism, cubism and abstract expressionism, and the exhibition has important examples of paintings by Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins, George Inness, Childe Hassam, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko, Jacob Lawrence and Helen Frankenthaler among the group.
There are two O'Keeffe paintings and a Hassam at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, and Inness painted scenes of Tarpon Springs, where many of his son's paintings are exhibited today, but beyond that, these artists are not typically represented in Tampa Bay area permanent collections.
This exhibit tour is the first time the Phillips has sent a significant group from its American art collection, which is considered among the finest of its kind in the United States.
"It's the permanent collection of American paintings most museums would want to have," said Todd Smith, executive director of the Tampa museum. It also represents, he said, "the eye of a single collector for the most part."
The museum was established in 1921 by Duncan Phillips (1886-1966), a wealthy art collector who amassed several thousand works to create "a museum of modern art and its sources." He focused on impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art, buying European masters such as Matisse, Degas, Renoir, van Gogh and Picasso as well as American artists.
He continued collecting throughout his lifetime, extending his definition of "modern" art as he went along. His was, in fact, the first museum in the United States devoted to modern art.
Another time such an important exhibit of American paintings was in the bay area was an excellent 2007 exhibition from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, also in Washington, at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. It had a broader focus, but fewer works.
"To See As Artists See" was added quickly by industry standards to the Tampa museum's lineup of exhibitions, which can take several years to plan. The Phillips organized the exhibit and sent it on tour beginning in 2010 with stops in five international and U.S. museums, including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas; the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville; and the Fundacion MAPFRE in Madrid.
About six months ago, Tampa Museum of Art's Smith approached the Phillips about extending the run for a few months more in Tampa and officials signed off on the final negotiations a few days ago. Smith declined to disclose the cost of the show.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.