British Works in the Dixon Collection by Julie Pierotti

Hail, Britannia!  Six Centuries of British Art from the Berger Collection opened at the Dixon this past weekend to great success.  Visitors have loved seeing portraits, landscapes, and sporting subjects by such icons of British art as Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Anthony van Dyck, George Stubbs, and John Constable.  But in addition to these masterworks, loaned by the Berger Collection Educational Trust and the Denver Art Museum, the observant visitor to Hail, Britannia! will notice a few rarely-seen works of art belonging to the Dixon Gallery and Gardens.  Yes, although the Dixon is known for its French Impressionist paintings and German porcelain, we do own several works by British artists.   

Some loyal Dixonians (that’s what I like to call our long-time members) probably know that our founder, Hugo Dixon, was born and raised in England.  It was only after the first World War that Mr. Dixon came to the United States.  When he and Mrs. Dixon first began collecting art in the 1940s, they focused their attention on works by British artists, a reflection of Mr. Dixon’s heritage.   

One of the first works we believe the Dixons purchased is a charming view of Venice by eighteenth-century British artist William James.  Following the success of Italian artist Canaletto’s clear and lively views of Venice with English collectors on the Grand Tour, a flood of British artists flocked to the cosmopolitan Italian city to create similar scenes that they could market to collectors back home.  William James was one such artist, and his Venice from the mid-1700s represents the kind of large, expansive view of the canals of the city that would have been very popular with British collectors of his time.  The fact that it was Mr. and Mrs. Dixon’s first major acquisition proves the staying power of that popularity.   


William James, Venice, mid-eighteenth century; Oil on canvas; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon, 1975.1

Continuing down the path of British paintings from the eighteenth century, Margaret and Hugo Dixon focused their attention on British Grand Manner portraiture, acquiring Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Mrs. Richard Crofts (1775) and Sir Henry Raeburn’s Lady Don with Her Granddaughter, Mary Don (ca. 1794).  Both portraits exude the kind of relaxed sophistication that defined the style, which originated with Reynolds and his penchant for flattering and idealizing his subjects.  Look for more information on these two portraits in upcoming blog posts.  


Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Mrs. Richard Crofts, 1775; Oil on canvas; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon, 1975.2

Sir Henry Raeburn, Lady Don with Her Granddaughter, Mary Don, ca. 1794; Oil on canvas; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon, 1975.18 

Moving on to the twentieth century, the Dixons bequeathed to the museum Harry Hime’s 1925 Scottish Landscape, a placid view of the remote Scottish terrain, beautifully communicated through the medium of watercolor.  And along with many other masterworks, the Dixon Gallery and Gardens received Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure (1945) from Montgomery Ritchie in 1996.  This intimately-scaled bronze reveals how, in the mid-twentieth century, British artists in essence shed their conservative past, forging a new identity for England, particularly London, as an international center for modern art.   

Harry Hime, Scottish Landscape, 1925; Watercolor on paper; Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Hugo N. Dixon, 1982.4

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1945; Bronze; Gift of Montgomery H. W. Ritchie, 1996.2.8

It’s really fun to see how the Dixon’s British works fit in with the works in the Berger Collection.  Come discover these paintings and many more in Hail, Britannia!  Six Centuries of British Art from the Berger Collection, on view at the Dixon through April 19. 

Posted by Chantal Drake at 11:50 AM
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