Twenty paintings from 1952 that capture Dallas as more skyscrapers went up and the city began to sprawl away from downtown, are going on exhibit together for the first time in more than a half-century.
"Flower of the Prairie: George Grosz in Dallas," a series of works by the German Dadaist George Grosz, opens Sunday at the Dallas Museum of Art. The series captures everything from the downtown skyline rising from the prairie to the colorful bright lights of a street once filled with theaters to a man with a cowboy hat striding down the street.
Curator Heather MacDonald said that the series captures a moment in the city's history that vanished within a decade as the city grew. The exhibit says the city expanded from 50 square miles at the end of World War II to 198 square miles by 1955.
"It feels like an unintentional commemoration of the city built in the first half of the 20th century and that almost is swallowed up and disappeared by the city that was built after, by the so-called metroplex," she said. "That sense of this dense commercial downtown, it's gone fast," she said.
Grosz, an expatriate German best known for satirical works depicting the rise of fascism in his home country, was commissioned in 1952 by department store executive Leon Harris Jr., whose family founded A. Harris & Company in Dallas in 1887, to commemorate the store's 65th anniversary.
MacDonald said Grosz was an unusual choice for a corporate commission. She said that while Grosz _ who left Berlin in 1933, just before Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor, and eventually settled in New York _ needed the money from the commission, he may have also been motivated a lifelong love of the American West.
"He was struck of course by skyscrapers and all the muscularity and growth of our infrastructure downtown and he was also fascinated by the cowboy legend," said Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the museum.
A work titled "In Front of the Hotel," shows a street scene in front of The Adolphus, a historic hotel downtown where Grosz stayed while he was in the city. Those featured in the watercolor include a smartly-dressed woman, a man in a cowboy hat and a man in overalls. A couple of the works depict residents in black neighborhoods of the city, including one called "A Glimpse into the Negro Section of Dallas," showing a grouping of well-dressed African-Americans.
Three works show the city's historic sources of wealth _ one of cattle, another depicting an oil refinery and another showing people picking cotton _ though the exhibit notes that by the 1950s, the city's economy was already dominated by banking.
"Refreshments on the Way," shows a man in a cowboy hat standing outside of a restaurant called the Pig Stand, famous for a pork sandwich. A sign shaped like a pig with the words "pig sandwich" on it.
Grosz's watercolor "Dallas Broadway" depicts a colorful scene of a street filled with dozens of theaters and people. The exhibit said that with growing competition from the entertainment venues in the suburbs, most of those theaters were closed by the 1970s. All but one, the Majestic Theater, was razed.
The series was first exhibited at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the predecessor to the Dallas Museum of Art, in October 1952. The series was again displayed in 1954 in New York before being largely forgotten.
One work from the series, "Romantic Moon Over Texas," is missing, its whereabouts unknown, MacDonald said. Most of the works ended up in the collections at the Dallas Museum of Art or Southern Methodist University by the early 1960s. One piece featured in the exhibit came from a private collection.
MacDonald said a few of the images are reproduced frequently in books about Grosz, but most she's never seen reproduced.
In addition to photographs of the city from the 1950s, the exhibit also features 12 works Grosz made earlier in his career. A watercolor over ink called "Nazi Interrogation" from 1935 depicts a particularly brutal scene.
Leon Harris Jr. died in 2000 at age 74. A. Harris & Company merged with rival Sanger Brothers in 1961 to form Sanger-Harris, which was absorbed by Foley's in the mid-1980s. That chain was later taken over by Macy's.
Grosz died in 1959 at the age of 65.
If You Go...
FLOWER OF THE PRAIRIE: GEORGE GROSZ IN DALLAS: Exhibit runs May 20 through Aug. 19 at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 North Harwood, http://www.dm-art.org/. The exhibit is included in the general admission price of the museum. Adults, $10; students, $5; children under 12, free; seniors 65 and older and military, $7. Open Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.
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