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A Retrospective in Memoriam: Robert MacDonald Graham, Jr.

The paintings of well-known Missouri Artist Robert MacDonald Graham Jr., who recently passed away, are being featured in a two-part exhibition for nearly two months in the art galleries at Central Methodist College.

Opening March 28 in the Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art and the Stephens Museum/Gallery is an exhibition titled "A Retrospective in Memoriam: Robert MacDonald Graham Jr." Graham, an internationally known artist and former student of Thomas Hart Benton, died Feb. 11 in Kansas City at the age of 80.

The exhibition features 40 of Graham’s paintings in the Ashby-Hodge Gallery and Graham’s "Missouri Springs" series of 12 paintings in the Stephens Gallery. The Ashby-Hodge Gallery exhibition includes acrylics, oils, and watercolors. Among these are a self-portrait Graham did at the age of 20 in 1941 when he was a student of Benton’s, country scenes in the United States and historic sites in Europe. Many have never been shown in the Ashby-Hodge Gallery or in other central Missouri exhibitions.

"The show mirrors a true retrospective of his work from his teenage years through his late 70s," said Dr. Joseph E. Geist, curator of the Ashby-Hodge and Stephens galleries. "In addition to highlighting his work through many decades, the paintings also focus on his journeys both in and out of America."

Graham's style has been described as both poetic and haunting. His strong use of color reflects the influence of Benton. And the luminosity of his work shows the influence of artists such as Eakins, Homer, Turner and Vermeer, painters known for their use of light and shadow.

Graham made a gift of the 12 "Missouri Springs" paintings to the College in 1997. The paintings represent some of Missouri's most beautiful natural areas and include the magnificent Big Spring at Big Spring Park near Van Buren and Blue Spring, both in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways; picturesque Alley Spring and Mill and Round Spring near Eminence; Bennett Spring near Lebanon; and several other well-known major springs of the Missouri Ozarks.

"The [Springs] paintings add distinction and a vast new dimension to the Midwest Regionalism of the Ashby-Hodge collection," said Thomas L. Yancey, former curator of the CMC galleries. "We are pleased to be able to carry on the legacy of Thomas Hart Benton through the paintings of Robert MacDonald Graham, who was associated with Benton as a student of his at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1937 to 1941."

The "Missouri Springs" paintings are the second set of his major works now owned by Central Methodist College, which acquired Graham's 12 "Missouri Historic Heritage Site" paintings in 1994. Included in the Heritage series are paintings of the Rotunda of the Capitol Building at Jefferson City; George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond; the historic Catholic Church at St. Genevieve; and the Winston Churchill Memorial at Fulton.

Both the Heritage and Springs series paintings were completed during the 1980s.

A native of Missouri, Graham lived in the Kansas City suburb of Greenwood. He was born in 1919 in New York City. He started painting when he was 14 years old. He studied with Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1937 to 1941 and with Jules Van Vlasselaer at Hoger Institute voor Schone, Antwerp, Belgium, from 1948 to 1949. One of his first professional assignments was as a combat artist in Australia, New Guinea and Japan during World War II; a number of his works are represented in the Pentagon collection.

Graham taught art at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Texas. His biography is listed in "Who’s Who in American Art," "Men of Achievement" and the International Biographics Center, Cambridge, England.

Graham’s works have been reproduced by the New York Geographic Society, and many of his original works are held in private and public collections. These include the archives of the Hubert H. Humphrey Center, Minneapolis; Georgetown University Collection, Washington, D.C.; Sowolski Collection, Sarasota, Fla.; Thomas Hart Benton Collection, Kansas City; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Grumbacher Collection, New York City; and The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art at Central Methodist College.

Graham was a several-times recipient of the M.J. Kaplan Award presented by the National Society of Painters in Casein and Acrylics (NSPCA), of which he was also elected a member. In 1991, he was awarded the John J. Newman Medal, NSPCA, by the National Arts Club.

 
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