American, 1897-1968


1955, oil on board
signed and dated Bunnell 55 lower right
16 x 20 in., frame: 21 1/2 x 24 1/2 in.

  • Provenance: The Collection of Mr. & Mrs. H.C. Brillhart, Jr., Perryton, Texas.
  • Notes: Grogan & Company is pleased to bring to market six works from the collection of the late Mr. & Mrs. Herbert Clair Brillhart, Jr. of Perryton, Texas. These works, all lovingly displayed in the Brillhart's home for the past six decades, reflect the couple's deep interest in and connection with the top American artists of the mid 20th century.

    In the mid 1950s, Lena Mae Brillhart met Dord Fitz (1914-1989), an artist, educator, and gallerist who had founded the Dord Fitz School of Art and the Dord Fitz Gallery in Amarillo, Texas, in 1953. In 1954, he established the Creative Arts Association, a group of art students and patrons from the Texas panhandle, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Fitz and his group (including Brillhart) would travel to New York to exhibit their work, and it was on one of these trips in 1956 that Fitz met the Abstract Expressionist Milton Resnick. Through Resnick he soon met Willem and Elaine deKooning, John Grillo, Mark Rothko, and others. By 1957, the enterprising Fitz arranged to put on an exhibition of his Abstract Expressionist friends' works in Amarillo, thereby cementing the creative exchange between the contemporary New York art scene and the Texas panhandle. This exchange continued throughout the 1960s, as Fitz maintained close relationships with many of the leading New York artists, inviting them to lecture, teach, and exhibit at his gallery with the support of the Area Arts Foundation.

    It is in this rich creative context that Lena Mae Brillhart built her collection, buying the works of artists whom she knew personally. For example, Louise Nevelson's Moon Garden wall sculpture was the first work the Area Arts Foundation purchased upon its incorporation in 1960, and Nevelson came to Amarillo to personally install the sculpture. Brillhart's Nevelson, Petite Delight (Lot 21), also dates to this period.

    In March 1960, Fitz mounted The Women, an exhibition of "17 of the top women artists of New York City." Artists represented included Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler, and Elaine de Kooning. The show was billed as "the world's first contemporary all-woman art and sculpture show," and was met with both local and national critical acclaim. Six artists, including de Kooning and Nevelson, as well as Nevelson's gallerist Martha Jackson, traveled to Amarillo for the opening, speaking on a panel "to discuss womens' place in the creative development of the world today." According to Brillhart's reminiscences, Jackson stayed with Area Arts Foundation Vice President Betty Childers while in Amarillo for the opening. When Brillhart and Childers traveled to New York the following year, Jackson returned the favor, inviting them to stay with her at her apartment above her East 69th Street gallery.

    These relationships only strengthened throughout the 1960s. For example, in 1966, Fitz hosted an arts festival at his gallery, the highlight of which was a panel discussion about contemporary art moderated by the critic Harold Rosenberg, with Elaine de Kooning, Louise Nevelson, and Larry Rivers as panelists. Rivers fell ill shortly before the festival, but de Kooning saved the day by recruiting the promising artist Alex Katz to replace Rivers on the panel. Katz brought six small paintings with him to the festival, and all of the works, one of which may have been Brillhart's Ada (Lot 20), were purchased by Fitz's students. The ever-savvy de Kooning convinced Fitz to waive his commission on these sales, noting that Katz "had dropped everything and had come out at a day's notice."

    The legacy of Dord Fitz can be felt in this selection of six works from the Brillhart's collection, which includes the Nevelson and Katz works alongside paintings by Milton Resnick, John Grillo, and Charles Bunnell. The collection speaks to the progressive world of Dord Fitz, who championed women artists and women collectors, and, most importantly, it represents Lena Mae Brillhart's keen eye for the top Abstract Expressionist artists of her time.
  • Condition: Overall in good condition, board and paint stable. Minor surface dust and grime.

    Please note: All property is sold "AS IS" and any statement, whether oral or written, is given as a courtesy and shall not be deemed as a guarantee, warranty, or representation of the authenticity of authorship, physical condition, size, quality, rarity, importance, provenance, exhibitions, literature or historical relevance of the property or otherwise. The absence of a condition report does not imply the item is in perfect condition.

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November 5, 2022 11:00 AM EDT
Boston, MA, US

Grogan & Company

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