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A Dozen Dazzling Gems

Selections from The Florida Art Collection, Gift of Samuel H. and Roberta T. Vickers

Photography by Randy Batista

One of the foremost collections of its kind, the Harn’s newly gifted Florida Art Collection contains nearly 1,200 works by more than 700 artists. Here, American art specialist Debra Force, Harn curator Dulce Román, Florida art specialist Gary Libby and donor Sam Vickers share 12 works worth a deeper dive.

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Foul Hooked Black Bass (1904), by Winslow Homer (1836-1910)
Watercolor on paper, 11 x 19 in.

Foul Hooked Black Bass, which shows a bass surfacing to strike the hook, stands out as one of the most dramatic and successful watercolors of Winslow Homer’s career. “Homer was a fisherman himself, and you can tell in this painting that he understands the sport. Rather than featuring men in a canoe or people with nets, he focuses on the fish itself — obviously a prized fish — which is jumping out of the water. It’s one of the few action scenes by Homer. You get that sense of uplift — the fish popping up — and the colors are so brilliant. Really, it’s quite modern, especially for its time.” — Debra Force

Did you know? Northerner Winslow Homer made seven trips to Florida between 1885 and 1909, to fish and escape the winter cold.

Fort George Island (1880), by Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
Oil on canvas, 11 x 15 in.

“This is a penetratingly beautiful picture that does a lot to capture the exotic, romantic, mysterious nature of Florida, as seen through the eyes of a painter that you do not associate with Florida at all. Moran is known for his huge paintings of the West — Yosemite and the Grand Canyon — but here he is showing us one of the Sea Islands near the mouth of the St. Johns River, which at the time were unfamiliar to most visitors. This painting is among 20 he did to illustrate an article for Scribner’s magazine. It’s a landscape, but way off in the distance, it has some figures that are walking and a wrecked sailing boat. The artist was referring, of course, to Ponce de León and the Spanish Conquest of Florida.” — Gary Libby

Did you know? This is donor Robbie Vickers’ favorite artwork in the collection.

Osceola of Florida (1838), by Robert J. Curtis (1816-1877)
Oil on canvas, 20 x 25 in.

“Osceola was a Seminole chief from 1804 to 1838 and a leader during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). In January 1838, he was imprisoned by the U.S. Army for his part in leading Native Americans in rebellion against relocation from their ancestral lands in Florida to territories west of the Mississippi River. Curtis traveled to Fort Moultrie to paint Osceola’s portrait, which presents him as both an enemy warrior and a sympathetic, noble hero.” — Dulce Román

Did you know? This is one of five nearly identical Osceola portraits painted by Curtis. “The story as we understand it,” said Sam Vickers, “is that a drugstore keeper in Charleston, South Carolina, knew the Curtis portrait was very popular, so he put an advertisement in the paper [saying] that the artist would paint a version of it for $35 apiece, which he did.” By the time the Vickerses acquired their painting, its value had increased considerably.

Saturday Night at the Ringling Hotel (1949), by Everett Shinn (1876-1953)
Oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 20 1/4 in.

“Everett Shinn found his inspiration in popular forms of entertainment, including the circus and vaudeville. Favoring views of performers from unusual vantage points, Shinn often portrayed his subjects from the side wings or the orchestra pit. Standing in front of Saturday Night at the Ringling Hotel, the viewer shares a similar viewpoint to that of the performers high above the audience, which heightens the spontaneous excitement of the performance.” — Dulce Román

Did you know? Shinn was a member of the Ashcan School of painting (late 1800s to 1910s), which portrayed gritty scenes of daily life in New York City. On an early trip to France, he viewed Edgar Degas’s depictions of stage performers and their audiences, which ignited his interest in the subject.

Mary Eliza’s Cabin, Chipley, Florida (1955), by Marguerite Zorach (1887-1968)
Oil on canvas, 26 x 40 in.

Raised in Fresno, California, Zorach was one of the first women to matriculate at Stanford University but left for Paris to live with an aunt and study art. She was greatly influenced by Henri Matisse, Maurice de Vlaminck and French Fauvism, and exhibited at the 1913 Armory Show, in New York. This painting depicts the cabin of midwife Mary Eliza Myrick, the first African American female born in Washington County, Florida, after the Emancipation Proclamation. The well-observed scene includes washtubs, a napping dog, a child peering under a dock and Mary Eliza herself.

Did you know? While Zorach was an impressive and prolific artist, it was not until after her death that she received the same recognition as her husband, painter William Zorach. Many art historians today consider her the “First Woman Artist of California.”

Sunset Near Low Creek, Florida (c. 1900), by Herman Herzog (1832-1932)
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.

“Born in the German city of Bremen, Herzog was a renowned landscape painter whose patrons included Queen Victoria and the Emperor of Russia. In the late 1860s, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Philadelphia; afterward, he became a frequent visitor to Gainesville, where his son taught chemistry at East Florida Seminary, the precursor to the University of Florida. On these trips he hiked from coast to coast, sketching and painting along the way. This Herman Herzog captures the transformative quality of falling light as it frames a single hunter and his dog in a golden glow that suggests the eternal beauty of nature and man’s place in this magical forest in North Central Florida.” — Gary Libby

Did you know? Herzog painted views of Lake Alachua prior to the opening of a sinkhole in the lake bed in the early 20th century; the place is now known as Paynes Prairie.

The Venetian Pool, Coral Gables (undated), by Martha Walter (1875-1976)
Watercolor on paper, 12 x 15 in.

“Walter’s lively watercolor depicts people enjoying themselves at Venetian Pool, a historic public swimming pool in Coral Gables that has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people since it opened in 1924. Walter’s scene shows figures swimming in the water and lounging on rocks amidst Italian-inspired loggias and soaring palm trees. Walter likely painted this scene ‘on the spot.’ The translucent quality of the watercolor medium made it the perfect choice for capturing varied effects of color and light in the swimming pool.” — Dulce Román

Did you know? Impressionist painter Martha Walter is known for her portraits of young children and the crowded immigration facilities at Ellis Island, New York.

Oleanders (c. 1885), by Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)
Oil on linen, 10 5/8 x 18 1/2 in.

Heade’s paintings have been described as “profound meditations on the stages of life’s journey and its fragile transience.”  After stints in New York and travels in Latin America, the artist was invited in 1883 by Henry Flagler to open an art studio in St. Augustine, where he continued to paint until his death in 1904. Heade’s jewel-like paintings of Southern flowers laid on velvet are highly collectible, said Debra Force, especially his depictions of magnolias and Cherokee roses. This one of vibrant pink oleander reclining on golden velvet is the only one of its kind, American art historian Ted Stebbins once told Sam Vickers.

Did you know? “Oleanders used to be everywhere in Florida,” said Sam Vickers. “Oleander shrubs used to line the Florida highways. You don’t see them today like you used to. They’re slightly poisonous.”

Jody and Flag (1938), by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945)
Oil on pressed wood panel, 17 1/2 x 26 3/4 in.

One of America’s greatest illustrators, N.C. Wyeth created this glowing work for the end pages of “The Yearling,” Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about the love between a child, Jody, and his pet fawn, Flag. This and other illustrations created for “The Yearling” show Wyeth’s extraordinary ability to create indelible, living characters from the author’s words. No wonder this is Sam Vickers’ favorite work in his donated collection!

Did you know? N.C. Wyeth’s son, Andrew, posed as Jody for this and other “Yearling” illustrations. Trained by his own father, Andrew Wyeth went on to become one of the most famed American realist painter of the mid-20th century.

Coconuts (1945), by Jane Peterson (1876-1965)
Oil on board, 30 x 25 in.

The Vickers Collection includes five paintings by Peterson, a close friend of designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. “She was a wonderful painter who traveled the world and spent a good bit of time in Florida,” said Sam Vickers. By 1912, she already had many influential patrons and was teaching at the Art Students League, in New York. Coconuts uses flat blocks of color and strong outlines to create a vivid close-up of this quintessential tropical plant, shown in its natural state, still attached to the tree.

Did you know? “Coconuts are not native to Florida,” said Sam Vickers. “They fell off a boat en route from Cuba, near Palm Beach, and were loaded ashore.” The coconut palms and groves that grew from those seeds eventually gave Palm Beach County its name.

Madame Kovar, Ringling Lion Tamer (1944), by Jerry Farnsworth (1895-1983)
Oil on canvas, 35 x 30 in.

“Jerry Farnsworth was a Massachusetts-based portrait painter who built a winter home in Sarasota, where he founded an art school. This portrait of Madame Kovar characterizes his use of rich color and dramatic lighting effects. May Kovar was the Ringling Brothers’ star lion tamer and one of the few women lion tamers in the world. Farnsworth painted her portrait five years before her death in 1949, when she was mauled to death by a lion named Sultan as her children watched in horror. Madame Kovar’s serious, introspective expression suggests her acknowledgment of the danger she faced in her profession.” — Dulce Román

Did you know?  Married to artist Helen Sawyer, portraitist Jerry Farnsworth is considered the father figure of the Sarasota Art Colony.

Overseas Highway #2 (1941), by Ralston Crawford (1906-1978)
Oil on canvas, 10 x 16 in.

“Overseas Highway #2 depicts U.S. Route 1 as it traverses the Florida Keys. Crawford is best known for his paintings of architecture and industrial subjects, which he treated in a flat, geometric style. Overseas Highway #2 reveals his interest in sharply demarcated, simplified forms and smooth surfaces that virtually eliminate any trace of the painting process. In this example, he has radically reduced details so that his composition becomes an eloquent statement of abstract design.” — Dulce Román

Did you know? In 1978, Crawford said of his Overseas Highway paintings: “I remember at this particular point on the causeway, I felt I was quite literally going to sea in my car…I did see an awful lot of space before me, and it fascinated me.”