Art News

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts and LDS Church History Museum Show LeConte Stewart

artwork: LeConte Stewart (1891-1990) - "Dry Creek Bed, October" - Collection of Eve and Roy Blackburn - Courtesy of The Utah Museum of Fine Arts

Salt Lake City, UT.- In a groundbreaking collaboration, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the LDS Church History Museum have partnered to present the largest joint exhibitions ever mounted of work by Utah artist LeConte Stewart (1891-1990). With a combined total of over 200 paintings and works on paper, each venue will feature rarely seen masterworks from private and public collections that focus on urban and rural scenes from Stewart’s dynamic career. From the despair of the Great Depression to the powerful beauty of Utah’s rural landscapes, these exhibitions provide compelling insight into the life and work of this important artist. “LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art” is on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts until January 2nd 2012.

LeConte Stewart (April 15, 1891 – June 6, 1990) was a Mormon artist primarily known for his landscapes of rural Utah. His media included oils, watercolors, pastel and charcoal, as well as etchings, linocuts, and lithographs. His home/studio in Kaysville, Utah is on the National Register of Historic Places. Stewart was born in Glenwood, Utah. His art education began in 1912 at the University of Utah, and included studies at the Art Students League summer school at Woodstock, New York, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Chester Springs. Stewart became the head of the Art Department at the University of Utah in 1938, and held that post until his retirement in 1956. Stewart is best known for his unidealized landscapes of rural Utah, spawning the term “LeConte Stewart Country.” Stewart is quoted as saying, “It is not that I love the lyrical in nature the less, but I feel that in modern life there is no time, no inclination for it. In these pictures I’m trying to cut a slice of contemporary life as it is in the highways and biways [sic] as I have found it.” Some of Stewart’s paintings have a photographic quality from a distance but are actually formed with broad strokes and a thick palette. Much of his work uses direct impressionistic techniques to convey the meaning of what he saw around him, illustrating things “…that are introspective, that you peer into, that you understand and feel.” Stewart stated: “Impressionism is the most important painting innovation of all time….I thought to myself, why not use this technique to express an idea rather than making it the end goal of a painting? I have tried to think of it as a means of interpreting landscaping rather than making it merely impressionistic.” Stewart described himself as having an urgency in his work.

artwork: LeConte Stewart - "Approved by Postmaster General", 1937 - Oil on canvas 30" x 36" -  Courtesy the Church History Museum.

A plaque in the Kaysville Gallery of Art reads: “I had a great urgency to work as rapidly as possible. Each Saturday I painted one large 24-by-30-inch picture in the morning and another in the afternoon. Between I painted four smaller studies. Six was an average Saturday for me.” In addition to landscapes, Stewart also did portraiture and murals. He painted several murals for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon or LDS Church) buildings, including works found inside the LDS temples in Hawaii, Alberta, and Arizona, as well as murals for the Salt Lake City International Airport and the historic Bigelow-Ben Lomond Hotel. Stewart died in Kaysville, Utah at the age of 99.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is Utah’s primary cultural resource for global visual arts. It is unique in its dual role as a university and state art museum. It is Utah’s only visual arts institution that collects, exhibits, interprets, and preserves a comprehensive collection of original art objects. The creation of a formal art gallery on the top floor of the Park Building in the early 1900s marks the physical birth of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. In the beginning, paintings by local artists filled this one-room gallery. Over the next five decades, the art department at the University of Utah received major art gifts and specific requests from donors to remodel the gallery into a museum. After the renovation of the gallery was finished, the University’s president, A. Ray Olpin, established it as the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on May 6, 1951. In 1967, Frank Sanquinetti was hired as the first professional director. By this time, the Museum had entered a new period of growth, which resulted in the building of a new museum. After the Museum’s relocation in 1970, its goal was to focus on the continuation of expanding its collections. Events were held to gain support from the community and the Annual Friends of the Art Museum Acquisition Fund was formed. Over the years this Annual Fund has been helpful with the expansion of the Museum’s collections and its ability to offer art and history education.

artwork: LeConte Stewart  - "The Smiths', the Jones', and the Browns'", 1936 - Oil on panel Courtesy of Springville Museum of Art. -  On view until January 2nd 2012.

Thanks to the generous patrons, local and national foundations, the University community, and the citizens of the State of Utah, the UMFA’s collection now encompasses 5,000 years of artistic creativity. Since the mid-1900s, when the collection was around 800 objects, it has grown to over 17,000 art objects. This huge expansion required the building of yet another museum, and with the help of many generous donors the construction of a new 74,000 square-foot building was started in 1998. The UMFA opened in the Marcia and John Price Museum Building in June 2001, and the preceding year David L. Dee was named Executive Director. Dee resigned in 2009 and was named Director Emeritus. Gretchen Dietrich, former Director of Public Programs and Curatorial Affairs, was named Executive Director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts in July 2010. Since the second relocation, the UMFA has experienced unprecedented growth in all areas of operation. In February 2005, the Utah State Legislature declared the UMFA as an official state institution, confirming the importance of the Museum’s role as a center for art, culture, and education in the state of Utah. As Utah’s flagship art museum, the UMFA collects, exhibits, interprets, and preserves a comprehensive collection of more than 18,000 original art objects from around the world. Today the UMFA strives to give everyone the opportunity to experience different ideas, values, and cultures from its extensive art collections. Visit the museum’s website at …