Once the great estate of a railroad tycoon, the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens has just become home to a painting of a powerful locomotive. Last week a group of art collectors helped the Huntington buy a 1935 Reginald Marsh painting of a hulking locomotive at work, belching copious amounts of steam.
The painting adds to the Huntington's holdings in 20th century American art, a growth field for the institution, and complements its library holdings on the history of the railroad industry.
Marsh made this painting, which measures about 5 feet by 5 feet, in 1935 as a study for an even larger mural at the Post Office Building in Washington, D.C., that had been commissioned by the Treasury Department. He did the study in a realistic style in tempera on the walls of a mentor's studio in Hopewell Junction, N.Y., and the painting -- cut from the walls -- takes the form of tempera on concrete braced with metal.
"It's interesting to see how much he was experimenting with different textures for the surface within this one piece," said Huntington curator Jessica Todd Smith, describing his use of sand to achieve a "pebbly" texture for the sky and smoke, compared to a slicker finish for the train's metal gears. She also noted that the study is unusual because he did not in the end focus on a locomotive for the Post Office mural (now in the Ariel Rios Federal Building in Washington).
"Apparently they asked for more mail, and his response was: You want mail, I'll give you mail. He painted bags of it," the curator explained.
The painting was acquired from Gerald Peters Gallery on April 29 as part of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens' annual art collectors council. The acquisitions support group has convened annually since 1994 and this year included 43 donors.
The collectors group also voted to buy "The Breaker Boys," made around 1925 by Ashcan painter George Luks. The dark painting shows a group of boys removing the impurities of coal by hand -- a dangerous practice that continued into the 1920s despite growing opposition to child labor.
The Huntington would not disclose the acquisition price for either painting but noted that the two together cost approximately $1 million. Most of the funding came from the council members' dues and donations at the event.
Both works have been hanging at the Huntington since April 23 for the council's consideration. Starting Wednesday they will go on display to the public for three months in the institution's American art galleries.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times