DMA Insight

Barrett Collection of Early Texas Art

With its sprawling landmass, geographic and demographic diversity, and dramatic, even mythic, history, Texas has always operated within and outside of American culture. So too has its art, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As the state itself came of age in the decades leading up to and just beyond the Centennial of 1936, so early Texas artists both defined themselves with and against the mainstreams of American art.

From its inception, the Dallas Museum of Art has demonstrated a commitment to Texas art. One of its earliest acquisitions was a painting by Julian Onderdonk, who would go on to become early 20th-century Texas's finest painter before his untimely death.

The Museum's collection of Texas art formed organically, over many decades, through a combination of fortunate purchases and gifts and through the stewardship of local artists such as Jerry Bywaters, director of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts between 1943-1964, and Otis and Velma Dozier, whose bequest significantly enriched the collection, as well. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the Museum routinely purchased the prize-winning artworks at various annual exhibitions throughout the region, creating what eventually would become one of the leading collections of Texas Regional Art—a moment celebrated in 1985 with the groundbreaking exhibition Lone Star Regionalism, the first-and still unequalled-critical retrospective of Texas's unique contributions to Modernism.

Recognizing the distinctiveness of Texas art, pioneering Dallas collectors Nona and Richard Barrett began building their collection in the late 1980s, eventually creating one of the finest such surveys in private hands. At the same time as they developed a sophisticated understanding of the art of their own moment, the Barretts also explored the state's artistic foundations, well in advance of the current vogue for the subject matter, witnessed by the proliferation of dealers and auctions. Rather than uncritically acquire Early Texas art, the couple carefully selected fine examples by iconic and lesser-known artists. In 2007, long aware of the Dallas Museum of Art's own distinguished holdings in early Texas material, the Barretts generously decided to give their early Texas collection to the museum.

The addition of the Barrett Collection of Early Texas Art dramatically transformed the Museum's holdings in both breadth and depth. Artists previously absent from the collection are now represented, while other work strengthened our knowledge of several important Texas painters' careers including Frank Reaugh, Edward G. Eisenlohr, Julian Onderdonk, and members of the Dallas Nine (particularly Everett Spruce and William Lester). The gift filled important gaps in the Museum's early Texas landscape holdings through works by Hermann Lungkwitz, José Arpa y Perea, and Dawson Dawson-Watson. In terms of Texas women artists, the gift presents us with a singularly fine miniature by Eleanor Onderdonk (previously unrepresented in our holdings), as well as strong additions by Florence McClung and Clara Williamson. In one of its most important moves, the Barrett gift bridged the gap between Early Texas Art and contemporary art with the gift of two works by Forrest Bess, one of the most important and enigmatic abstract artists working in the state after the second world war.

Adapted from

  • William Keyse Rudolph, Acquisition proposal (2007.15.1-62), 2007.

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA exhibition panel from "Lone Star Legacy: The Barrett Collection of Early Texas Art," May 27- November 18, 2007.

Web Resources

  • Dallas Museum of Art
    Read the press release from 2007 announcing the gift of the Barrett Collection of Early Texas Art.