Category Archives: Curator’s Corner

A Fortune in Oils

Opening September 14, 2019, A Fortune in Oils: Sid Richardson’s Personal Collection is a special exhibition that honors Sid Williams Richardson (1891-1959), who left a legacy through his personal collection of western masterworks and the foundation he established in 1947. Woven through the letters, photographs, publications, and his beloved paintings on display is the story of a plain-spoken, unpretentious, and intensely private man whose wealth, earned principally from West Texas petroleum, enabled him to pursue his interests as a cattleman, philanthropist, and collector of paintings.

Peter Hurd, Portrait of Sid Richardson, 1958, Tempera on panel, 32 x 48 inches

The values instilled in Richardson while growing up in the small East Texas town of Athens shaped his full and productive life. Born on April 25, 1891, he rose from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest men in the country. But it was his belief in hard work, coupled with his keen understanding of human nature, that contributed the most to his success.

Google Maps pointing out Athens, TX in relationship to Dallas & Fort Worth, TX.

The path to Sid’s fortune began in 1911. After the death of his father, “J.I.” —owner of the largest peach orchard in Henderson County and trader of land and cattle—Sid set out for the oil fields near Wichita Falls, Texas. He learned the oil business from the ground up, and after a 20-year roller-coaster ride, emerged on top with a big strike in the late 30s in the Keystone field of West Texas. 

Keystone Field, Derricks and Sand Dunes | ESTHER BUBLEY (1921-1998) | November 1945

In April 1957, and with his fortune long established, Sid was described as the wealthiest man in America in the Ladies Home Journal. He had an estimated wealth of $700 million. Amongst those trailing Sid were: Arthur Vining Davis, Henry Ford II, Joseph Newton Pew, Jr., Howard Hughes, Clint Murchison (Sid’s good friend), Paul Mellon, August Busch, John D. Rockefeller III, and Robert Woodruff, with “a paltry $200 million.” Each man was described in the article as having the ability to size up people, and all were said to possess vision. Of Sid, the article stated, “Richardson, for instance, kept on prospecting for oil in an area where engineers said there was none. He was right.”

John B. Connally, Richardson’s legal advisor (and future Texas governor), described Sid as:

“a man of great courage, soft spoken, kind, sentimental, loyal to everyone who ever befriended him. He loved to create and build. He went broke two or three times, but he would persevere until he hit the big time in terms of oil and gas production. That didn’t change him though, he was a man of humble wants who got along with people of all walks of life. He was more at home with cowboys in a country café than he would have been in a fine restaurant in New York. He had an amazing instinct about people [with a] capacity for generating and maintaining real friendships. He didn’t seek notoriety. Everything he did, he did it quietly.”

John Connally, Sid Richardson, Lyndon Johnson, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce Dinner, 1957. Courtesy, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Collection, Special Collections, The University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.

Richardson’s generosity to individuals or institutions in need was made without fanfare, his philanthropy extending to gifts to college students, churches, schools, and hospitals. At Sid’s funeral, his friend the Reverend Billy Graham described Sid as having a heart as big as a washtub. “When he gave a gift, he usually wanted it to be anonymous. Many here today have been recipients of his thoughtfulness and kindness.” Today, the Sid W. Richardson Foundation continues to fulfill Sid’s vision through grants that help advance the missions of nonprofit educational, health, human service, and cultural organizations that serve the people of Texas.

With his fortune, Sid acquired several working ranches. He favored his time at San Jose Island, purchased in 1936, where he established a herd of purebred Santa Gertrudis. His concern to safeguard the Longhorn of early Texas history led to the establishment – with assistance from writer J. Frank Dobie and cattle inspector Graves Peeler – of a Longhorn herd for preservation; their progeny can be found at Fort Griffin, Texas. His interest in cattle and ranching also led him to join the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and to serve on the executive committee of the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show.

Edgar Deen, Ernest Allen, W.R. Watt, and Sid W. Richardson at Northwoods Farm (detail) | September 13, 1947 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram Photograph Collection, Special Collections, University of Texas at Arlington Libraries, Arlington, Texas | 10002301 AR406-6

As a man who spent his life around cattle and horses, Sid admired the paintings of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. He began collecting paintings in 1942, hanging them in his island home and in his two-room suite in the Fort Worth Club. Paintings were principally acquired from the Newhouse Galleries in New York, from Bert Newhouse and his son, Clyde. A warm relationship developed. In a 1981 interview, Bert recalled that Sid was the “finest natural gentleman I ever knew.” Clyde recalled that Sid collected because he loved the paintings’ spirit of the West, and that he bought on a hunch, loving “the spirit of the chase”.

Living Porch, Sid W. Richardson Residence | MAYNARD L. PARKER (1900-1976) | ca.1947 | Courtesy of The Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Sid amassed one of the largest private collections of Western masterworks in the country. He died on September 30, 1959, a bachelor, having never married. Art Shahan (Director of Livestock Operations on one of Sid’s ranches) attended Sid’s funeral and recalled that “Dr. Graham said he was . . . visiting [once with] Mr. Richardson in his office and Sid said, ‘Preacher, tell me about Heaven.’ And Dr. Graham was telling him different things and Sid said, ‘What I want to know is – do they drill oil wells up there?’”

Since 1982, Sid’s paintings have been displayed at the Sid Richardson Museum. The Museum is supported by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, which has added four paintings to the collection: The Dry Camp, Among the Led Horses, The Love Call, and The Apaches!.

Welcome in. “Uncle Sid”, as we like to call him, would be pleased you are with us today.

Sid Richardson Museum | Photo Courtesy of Keith Barrett

Remington’s Fortress of Rest

Although Remington spent his childhood growing up in rural Ogdenburg, New York, as a young man he quickly made his way to New York City where he spent most of his career. As he matured, Remington divided his time between the city and the country, which in this case was his childhood home in a region of New York state that’s referred to as the North Country. By 1900, he had purchased an island in the North Country on the St. Lawrence River, an island he called Ingleneuk.

Chippewa Bay, Frederic Remington Art Museum

“I am in Chippewa Bay 10 miles below Alexandria Bay. Seven miles wide here and blows like h- every minute. Got a dandy lumbered island – 6 acres- good house- kitchen outside – boat house – two docks and a hospital tent. Its cool here all the while and I work summers. It was a good scheme since no one can live in New [Rochelle] in the summer and work. It is cheaper than travel and anyhow summer is no time to spend on cars…” Frederic Remington to Julian Ralph, Summer 1900

Remington described Ingleneuk in his diary and to friends as his “fortress of rest,” where he would spend his subsequent summers.

Remington loafing at Ingleneuk, 1902, Frederic Remington Art Museum

The artist loved his summers at Ingleneuk. Remington wrote to his friend John Howard February 1907, “Oh I am itching to get up on that Island. I look forward to it like a school boy. I want to get out on those rocks by my studio in a bath robe in the early morning when the birds are singing and the sun a shining and hop in among the bass. When I die my Heaven is going to be something like that. Every fellows imagination taxes up a Heaven to suit his tastes and I’de be mighty good and play this earthly game according to the rules if I could get a thousand eons of something just like that.”

Our current exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, features several paintings depicting parts of his island, like his studio and boat house.

Ingleneuk Studio (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum
Frederic Remington | Remington’s Studio at Ingleneuk | 1907 | Oil on canvas board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Old Dock (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), 1903, Frederic Remington Art Museum
New Dock (Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum
Frederic Remington | Boathouse at Ingleneuk | ca. 1903 – 1907 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY
Ingleneuk, Photo Album, (Pete Smith, Inleneuk Island caretaker) Frederic Remington Art Museum

Remington requested his island handyman Pete Smith to paint the boat house “pea-green – sure enough spring foliage – greenery-yellery you know.” And the artist had his friend John Howard secure the paint. “D- you we will see how much an artist you are. I dont want any Paris green poison color such as you had on your house but the real touch of the April showers – now do you understand?”

What was it like with Remington on the island? In the October 1907 issue of Pearson’s Magazine, reporter Perriton Maxwell describes the scene:

“It is given to few men to live Crusoe-like on an island all their own; but Remington besides possessing his own island has augmented the boon with a substantial cottage, studio and outbuildings and lives part from the herding crowd like a feudal lord of old. You cannot possibly disturb him at his work; you could not even located this ‘Ingleneuk’ unless piloted to it. There are only five acres of it, but it is an impregnable stronghold and is, as the artist himself describes it, ‘the finest place on earth…’ Here Remington works all summer… I asked him for a photograph of the house at ‘Ingleneuk.’ ‘Bless your soul,’ he replied, ‘it couldn’t be photographed at any angle; it is solidly screen from view on all sides by the densest growth of trees along the St. Lawrence.’”

The house fell to fire in later years but the studio, now a cottage, still stands.

Ingleneuk Photo Album (Remington in front of Studio, Ingleneuk Island, Chippewa Bay), Frederic Remington Art Museum

The Yale Alumnus

In the spring of 1878, Remington wrote to his Uncle Horace Sackrider, “I am going to try and get into Cornell College this coming June and if I succeed will be a Journalist. I mean to study for an artist anyhow, whether I ever make a success of it or not.”

Unfortunately for Remington, Cornell University did not have a journalism department at that time. Fortunately for us, Remington enrolled in the newly created School of Fine Arts at Yale instead. Our blog featured a previous post about Remington’s time at Yale, which was short. His collegiate career last about 1 ½ years, having decided not to return to college after the holiday break that year due to the death of his father.

During his time at Yale’s art school, Remington was one of 7 men, along with 30 other art students, in both the first art school at an American university and the first coeducational school at Yale.

A coeducational painting studio around the turn of the century.

Yale opened its School of the Fine Arts in 1869. From the beginning, the school included women, which was in accordance with the wishes of its founders. The new institution was to be “a school for practical instruction, open to both sexes, to follow art as a profession.” In fact, the first person to earn a bachelor of fine arts degree at Yale (in 1891) was a woman.

Long after Remington had left Yale and was in the height of his artistic career, in 1900, the dean of the art school, John Ferguson Weir, proposed that Remington be awarded a Yale degree, despite the fact that the former student had completed only half of the three-year course of study. The letter from Weir on display in our current exhibit, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East, outlines for Remington what was required of him for the awarding of the degree. Lest you think this was an honorary degree, the faculty minutes indicate that Remington was eligible for an earned one. How is that possible? 

John F. Weir | Letter from John F. Weir, Director, Yale School of Fine Arts, to Frederic Remington | 1900 | Letter | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Dean Weir treated the BFA almost like an honorary degree. The degree was intended for “students who have made special attainments and have given evidence of marked ability in their work.” “One could not register for it or get it in course,” stated drawing instructor George H. Langzettel, who had received his own BFA in 1898. Rather, Dean Weir “kept in touch with the record of students after they had become professionals, and then invited them to receive it.”

Today, U.S. News & World Report ranks Yale School of Art as number one in Fine Arts. In addition to Frederic Remington, other notables artists who have graduated from Yale include painters  Chuck Close, Mickalene Thomas and Kehinde Wiley; sculptors Eva HesseNancy GravesWangechi MutuMartin Puryear, and Richard Serra.