DMA To Open ‘Pursuit of Beauty: The May Family Collection’

The Dallas Museum of Art (DMA)’s Pursuit of Beauty: The May Family Collection, an exhibition of the Dallas-based collection of American art that was built over 60 years by Thomas and Eleanor May, opens this weekend.

Pursuit of Beauty features 28 19th-and-20th-century oil paintings, watercolors, and sculptures on loan to the DMA, many of which rank as quintessential creations by major American artists. The works selected from the collection represent important historical and aesthetic highpoints in American art history. Pursuit of Beauty is on view Oct. 10, 2021, through Jan. 9, 2022, and is included in free general admission. The exhibition was curated by Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Curator of American Art. 

“The Mays have been stalwart supporters of the DMA since the 1980s and have forged a profound connection with the Museum. We are delighted to be able to present this rich selection of works from their outstanding collection,” said Dr. Agustín Arteaga, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “This exhibition is a tribute to their enduring commitment to enhancing the presentation of American art at the DMA and sharing with our community the opportunity to experience the artworks’ magnificence firsthand.” 

With the first acquisition in 1961, Thomas May launched into an endeavor that has endured for six decades. May was a former naval officer, and his decision to collect American art was influenced by an appreciation for his country’s history and culture. May served as a Museum trustee from 1999 to 2005. He and Mrs. May have gifted numerous works of art to the Museum over the years, including paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculpture. 

Dating from around 1871 to 1948, the 28 works in the exhibition span a wide variety of styles and techniques from across the U.S., reflecting the artistic diversity of early America. Important artistic movements represented include Realism, American Impressionism, the Ashcan School, American Modernism, and the American Scene, among others.

The featured works include landscapes by Winslow Homer, George Inness, and Chauncey F. Ryder; portraits by Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent; and still lifes by Alfred Henry Maurer and Laura Coombs. Sargent’s Sylvia Harrison—created when the renowned artist only rarely painted portraits for close friends—is a tour-de-force example of the qualities that made him one of the most sought-after portrait painters of the Gilded and Edwardian Ages. 

John Singer Sargent, Sylvia Harrison, 1914, oil on canvas, The Collection of Eleanor and C. Thomas May, Jr. PHOTO: Courtesy DMA

The May collection exhibits special strength in cosmopolitan artists who studied in Europe and New England, such as Theodore Robinson, William Merritt Chase, and Gertrude Fiske. Works by Beaux, Chase, Inness, Sargent, Edmund Tarbell, and Charles Burchfield all bear their original frames, offering a unique opportunity to experience these paintings as their artists intended. 

“The Mays’ collection has an intimacy and sense of contemplation that is extremely appealing, both visually and emotionally,” said Canterbury. “These artists captured tender, reflective moments from daily life — whether spent at the beach or in comfortable interiors — that convey, with great beauty, an era when life and its pace seemed harried.”

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