AUSTIN, Texas — The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, presents the exhibition “Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West.” The exhibition explores the life and work of artist, educator, inventor and naturalist Charles Franklin Reaugh (1860–1945), pronounced “Ray.” One of the Southwest’s earliest and most distinguished artists, Reaugh worked in the vein of American Impressionism and devoted his career to visually documenting the vast, unsettled regions of the Southwest before the turn of the 20th century.
The exhibition, which runs from Aug. 4 through Nov. 29, offers a rare opportunity for visitors to experience a historical survey of the most significant works created by an artist often referred to as “the Dean of Texas Artists.”
Born in southern Illinois, Reaugh arrived in Texas by covered wagon in 1876 and was sketching memorable scenes by the early 1880s while riding with trail drivers at the height of Texas’ cattle roundups. The vast southwestern prairie and native Longhorn cattle quickly became lifelong subjects of study for Reaugh. “No other artist had the opportunity or the desire to paint such subjects,” Reaugh once stated. “Now the subjects have passed. They will not be painted with like authenticity again.”
Drawing on more than 100 artworks in the Ransom Center’s Frank Reaugh collection, as well as other archives, museums and private collections across the state, the exhibition examines Reaugh’s mastery of the pastel medium and his sophisticated yet direct approach to the challenges of landscape painting, particularly en plein air (painting outdoors). Although Reaugh’s contributions have often been linked to the region, his work holds broad historical precedents within the evolution of art of the American West.
“As a witness to the cattle drives of the 1880s and the trail drivers’ way of life, Reaugh gave his artworks an authoritative quality that will undoubtedly sustain his well-deserved reputation as the painter of the Texas Longhorn for many years to come,” said Peter F. Mears, curator of art at the Ransom Center. “Yet Frank Reaugh was more—far more—than simply a cattle painter.”
The exhibition traces Reaugh’s long career, beginning with his earliest work and the European artists who influenced him. Reaugh traveled on sketch trips with students and peers to spectacular and remote locations for more than 50 years. An interactive component, “Mapping Frank Reaugh,” allows exhibition visitors to pair examples of his field sketches with the general site locations, ranging from the Texas Panhandle to Big Bend and beyond. The section “The Dean of Texas Artists” focuses on Reaugh’s influence as an arts educator and pioneering arts advocate. Examples of artwork by Reaugh’s students and peers are included in this section. “Reaugh’s Renaissance” explores Reaugh’s novel inventions, including a portable lap easel and cooling devices for internal combustion engines, and offers examples of his handmade pastels formulated to match native Texas flora.
The exhibition concludes with Reaugh’s magnum opus, “Twenty-four Hours with the Herd,” a series of seven large pastel paintings that depict a day of life on the trail. Reaugh created a multidisciplinary performance of the same title that premiered in 1933. The series is accompanied by preliminary studies, a performance script and associated publications.
A companion publication, “Windows on the West: The Art of Frank Reaugh,” edited by Mears, will be published by University of Texas Press and the Ransom Center.
Susie Kalil, art critic and contributor to “Windows on the West: The Art of Frank Reaugh,” notes “However nostalgic and romantic Frank Reaugh’s pastels are, they are also convincing because of freshness and their innocence. Underlying all of Reaugh’s landscapes is a feeling, not so much of charm, but of affection.”
Visitors can also explore the Ransom Center’s digital collection of 217 Reaugh artworks online. The digital collection features images of the front and back of each artwork, both framed and unframed.
High-resolution press images from the exhibition are available.
“Frank Reaugh: Landscapes of Texas and the American West” will be on view in the Ransom Center Galleries on Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Daily public tours are offered at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.